Former New England Revolution central defender Michael Parkhurst has excelled in both MLS and in Europe, but hasn’t been a regular contributor to the U.S. National Team. That could change tonight when the U.S. take on Venezuela in Phoenix, should Parkhurst put together a strong performance with the backline.
Parkhurst, a Providence, Rhode Island native, is a former MLS Defender of the Year, Olympian, and has played in the Europa League with his current club, FC Nordsjaelland of the Danish first league. Parkhurst even helped the U.S. lift the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2007, which qualified the U.S. for the 2009 Confederations Cup.
But Parkhurst has had some less than sterling moments as well. At the 2008 Olympics, a mistake by Parkhurst led to a late equalizer by the Netherlands in a decisive group play game that ended up costing the U.S. a spot in the knockout round. Then, in a group game against Haiti at the 2009 Gold Cup, Parkhurst miscleared a cross that led to Haiti’s go-ahead goal. The U.S. fought back and tied Haiti 2-2, but Parkhurst’s form remained inconsistent through the remainder of the tournament and he hasn’t been called to the national team since.
Much has happened since Parkhurst’s last appearance with the U.S. Bob Bradley, who was coach during Parkhurst’s rough 2009 Gold Cup run, has now been replaced by Jurgen Klinsmann. And though Klinsmann is mostly experimenting for tonight’s friendly against Venezuela and next Wednesday night’s game against Panama, Parkhurst can leave his mark and prove that he’s worth considering for a call-up in the future.
“It’s definitely nice to be part of the national team mix again,” Parkhurst said. “It has been some time and I’m looking forward to getting a new opportunity. Fortunately the hard work has paid off and I get a new chance to prove myself.”
“This camp proves to be a bigger opportunity than most because it’s a new manager and it’s a long camp,” added Parkhurst. “I’m looking forward to getting to know Jurgen and his tactics and style of play. It gives everyone a fresh start from the beginning. Like many others, I have a new chance to make a first impression and that very important.”
Klinsmann has called on a crew made up mostly of young MLS talent to lead the charge against Venezuela, who enter the friendly in the midst of qualification for the 2014 World Cup and ranked 41st. Usual starters like Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, and Tim Howard are unavailable for the camp because it doesn’t fall on one of FIFA’s designated international match dates and, in part, due to scheduling.
“Most [Europeans] are obviously not available for the match because of the schedules,” continued Parkhurst. “There is a lot of talent on the roster. Some young guys looking to get their first chance and some older guys trying to get a fresh start.”
Parkhurst and the national team have been training for the past three weeks and have been getting adapted to Klinsmann’s tactical style, which favors a midfield that controls the pace of the game and works hard to keep possession. The strong midfield play then allows for strikers to have more freedom to go at opposing defenses and creates more opportunities to score.
As a defender, Parkhurst has been scrimmaging against promising young talent like Chris Wondolowski, Brek Shea, and Teal Bunbury in camp. But aside from that challenge, Parkhurst is also competing for a regular spot in Klinsmann’s backline against a slew of talented MLS defenders.
“The majority of the strikers are young upcoming players who could be a big part of the future of the men’s national team,” explained Parkhurst. “There is also some great competition on the backline with some young center backs getting their chance. Three weeks in front of the national team staff is a great opportunity and hopefully I play well enough to earn more looks on a bigger stage.”
The national team has another friendly, against Italy, on February 29 in Genoa which will be a larger, more intense challenge. Should Parkhurst succeed in impressing Klinsmann this weekend and against Panama on Wednesday, he could find himself taking on the 2006 World Champions along with what is expected to be a more complete U.S. national team
The friendly against Italy would likely be where Klinsmann begins making his decisions about which players will be part of the U.S.’ World Cup qualifying campaign, set to begin this summer. So the stakes are high for Parkhurst.
“I don’t stress about getting called up because it’s out of my hands,” finished Parkhurst. “All I can do is play at a high level with my club team on a weekly basis. Then I let the rest take care of itself.”
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