MATHEW WAGNER - Monday, January 14, 2013
From relegation scraps to Champions League soccer, Michael Parkhurst is set to start it all over again.
Following four seasons with Danish champion Nordsjӕlland, the American defender transferred to German Bundesliga team Augsburg on December 19. Parkhurst had made it well known that he wanted to move to a new team long before his contract expired, but he received only one offer.
"Being a free agent, I could have signed at any time in the last six months, but it's been quiet," Parkhurst said from Augsburg's training camp in Turkey. "There's been rumored interest here and there but no offers. Augsburg was the first team to put an offer on the table.
"I thought it was the right move to make, rather than past on it and wait into January and see what else comes up."
For Parkhurst, the move was motivated by a desire to up his standing in the U.S. men's national team.
The 28-year-old American had accomplished everything in Denmark, starting on a team fighting relegation during the 2008-2009 season and ending with the same team playing in the Champions League group stage against the likes of Chelsea and Juventus.
That accent also led to him becoming a regular at national team camps as a backup behind veteran fullback Steve Cherundolo, but with German-American Tim Chandler back in the picture, the depth chart at fullback has become cloudy for the Providence, R.I. native.
In order to take the next step and stay in contention, he consulted with national team coach Jürgen Klinsmann about the move to Augsburg, and Klinsmann told Parkhurst that the move would benefit him. Klinsmann also talked to then-Augsburg sporting director Jürgen Rollmann, which sped along the process.
"I'm hoping this move will help that situation," Parkhurst said. "I need to get in here and get in the starting lineup as fast as possible, and I need to play consistently and play well for Augsburg. If I do that, then I'll continue to get my chances with the national team."
In order to take that next step, however, Parkhurst might have to take a step back first.
Going into the Rückrunde (the second half of the German season), Augsburg sits in 17th out of 18th place - three points behind Hoffenheim for the promotion playoff spot and 10 points from complete safety.
It's a tall task for Fuggerstädter to change the team's fortunes this year, considering they have won one game so far, but Parkhurst knows the mentality needed to ensure another season in the top league.
"When I joined my team in Denmark, we were in the same situation - maybe slightly better than I am now," Parkhurst said. "We were fighting for safety as well. It's difficult to play on a weekly basis in those circumstances, but you need to just go out there and fight with everything that you have for every point.
"Even if it's not the prettiest way, it's do-or-die if you get points every week."
Despite this possibility, Parkhurst signed a two-and-a-half year contract with the Bavarian team, no matter where his new team ends the season.
Parkhurst explained that though playing in Germany's second tier next season is a distinct possibility, he can activate an out-clause in his contract - but only if his play brings interest from other teams.
"There is an out-clause in the summer in there, but that's under certain circumstances," Parkhurst said. "It gives us a few weeks to find a club if there's somebody interested out there, but otherwise, the 2.Bundesliga would be my home for a year."
The good news for Parkhurst: Playing time shouldn't be too difficult to earn, with Augsburg tied for the third-most goals allowed in the Bundesliga and needing some consistency at right back.
Although captain Paul Verhaegh manned the right fullback position from the start, he tore a ligament in his ankle during 0-0 tie against Nuremberg on October 22, and the team has tried three players to fill in that role. Two of those players, Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker and Kevin Vogt, are natural midfielders.
Things are looking well for the American already. In the team's first friendly against 3.Liga team Hansa Rostock in Turkey on January 9, Parkhurst started and played 45 minutes for Augsburg.
Even when Verhaegh returns to the team, Parkhurst's versatility will allow him to play anywhere along the backline. The Fuggerstädter have employed four center backs in league play, which was Parkhurst's position when he played with the New England Revolution.
"I can provide cover at other positions, but I'm a right back now," Parkhurst said. "Hopefully, I can step in and provide some continuity at right back, but it's not something that I'm going to be given right away. I have to earn it."
In terms of the team's goal, Parkhurst is realistic about the team's chances of survival. He said that he hopes he and some other signings can work some magic for Augsburg.
"I hope that we're sitting in 16th position (come the end of the season)," Parkhurst said. "I think that's the goal - 10 points might be a little too much to make up right now. So, we have to hope that we can get to the position where you have the playoff game to fight for survival.
"They shocked everyone last year and stayed in the Bundesliga. We can do it again."