FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – From 2005 till 2008, Michael Parkhurst was a rock in the New England Revolution’s back line, earning Rookie of the Year, Defender of the Year, and MLS Best XI honors while leading the team to three straight MLS Cup appearances and a U.S. Open Cup title in 2007. On Saturday night, Parkhurst made his return to Gillette Stadium, where he had so many memorable moments early in his career, but this time in opposition colors, guiding the Columbus Crew to a 2-1 victory over his former club.
“It’s good to be back,” said Parkhurst. “I’ve got a lot of family and friends here and a lot of good memories here for four good years, so it was nice to get back and see some people.”
Parkhurst left MLS for Europe in 2008, at the age of 24, first joining FC Nordsjælland in Denmark where he played nearly five seasons, leading the club to its first ever Danish Superliga trophy in 2012 and two Danish Cups, while playing in both the UEFA Champions League and Europa League. Parkhurst then moved to Germany to join Bundesliga club FC Augsburg in December 2012, but after finding playing time limited there, returned to MLS in 2014.
The Revolution still held Parkhurst’s MLS rights since the Cranston, R.I., had left on a free transfer, but the club opted to trade his rights to the Crew in exchange for their first round 2014 SuperDraft pick – which the Revolution used to take Steve Neumann – and allocation money. The trade meant the now 30-year-old Parkhurst would not return the club he grew up a fan of. Instead his homecoming came as part of the opposition and meant a stay in some unfamiliar territory: the visitor’s locker room.
“I came in here and I didn’t even know where the bathroom was,” said Parkhurst. “It’s a lot different, but such is life right now.”
On Saturday, Parkhurst was a large part of the Crew’s victory. The U.S. National Team defender – who was part of the 30 man preliminary 2014 World Cup roster, but didn’t make the final cut – led all players with 92% passing accuracy, while also leading the Crew’s defense with three interceptions, and a blocked shot. The cerebral center back did all of that without committing a foul, a familiar stat-line to Revolution fans who saw Parkhurst win two MLS Fair Play Awards while committing just 32 fouls in 115 games for New England, an insanely low total for a defender.
But Parkhurst also did something that was uncommon from his Revolution days: getting forward on set pieces. He nearly set up a goal in the 65th minute when he redirected a corner kick towards the net that his teammate Chad Barson back heeled past goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth for what at the time would’ve broken a 1-1 deadlock, if not for Lee Nguyen clearing it off the line.
“I should’ve expected it to get through,” said Parkhurst of the play. “I think two guys went up for it right in front of me and I kind of lost it for a second and then I just reacted and I think I got a knee on it. Chad did well on it to get a back heel because he was facing away from the goal, but yeah, it’s unlucky I guess.”
Parkhurst’s play on both ends of the field surely gave his family and friends in attendance – which the defender estimated at 35 to 40 people – something to cheer about. The win also propelled the Crew over the Revolution and into a playoff spot, moving up to fourth in the Eastern Conference, at least temporarily. For his former team, it meant an eighth straight defeat and dropping out of a playoff spot.
“It was a big game,” said Parkhurst. “Two teams that have been struggling as of late, so it was an important three points for us. I feel for New England and what they’re going through right now because we just went through it as well; it’s tough. But for us it’s great, we’ve got to build some momentum and we’re starting to do that.”
While Parkhurst enjoyed his time back in New England and the familiar grounds, the opposition team certainly lacked familiar faces, with few regulars still remaining from his time with the club. Parkhurst noted there were just a couple players still on the team that he stays in touch with.
“Just [Andy] Dorman a little bit here and there, Shalrie [Joseph] a little bit, but that’s about it,” said Parkhurst. “Of course I say ‘hi’ to Jay [Heaps] and some of the other staff, but most of the guys I still keep in touch with aren’t with the Revs anymore.”
Still, while his former teammates have dwindled in numbers, there are a few players on New England that remember seeing Parkhurst play for the club. Scott Caldwell, 23, who got the start at defensive midfield on Saturday remembered watching Parkhurst while he grew up a fan of the team in Braintree, Mass.
“He’s just a really solid player, so it’s cool to be on the same field with those guys,” said Caldwell. “But in the end it has got to be better from us.”
But for those hoping a return to his hometown club is in the cards for Parkhurst before his career is over, the defender made clear he didn’t foresee it any time soon.
“I don’t know,” said Parkhurst. “I’m happy with the Crew right now and the family is settled there, so I don’t see anything changing for a long time, but you never know.”