In an era of big centerbacks, Michael Parkhurst has established a solid professional career in the middle of central defense using brains, speed and skill. Making his debut for the full National Team in 2007, he has earned nine caps and was part of the team that captured the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup title. Parkhurst also had the honor of representing the United States at the 2008 Olympic Games as one of three overage players. After honing his skills in Major League Soccer as a defender for the New England Revolution, the Providence, R.I., native moved to Denmark to sign with FC Nordsjaelland. Now in his fourth season in the Danish Superligaen, Parkhurst is enjoying life in Copenhagen and is taking advantage of every chance he gets to play for the United States.
ussoccer.com: It’s been a while since U.S. fans have had a chance to catch up on your career. How’s life these days?
Michael Parkhurst: “Life is good. Life is crazy. Outside of football, I’ve got two little kids now, so it’s busy. Football-wise, things are going really well. It’s the best since I’ve been there. We’ve got a new coach, so things have changed a little bit in the past six months. We’ve brought in a couple veteran-type players, and they’ve come into the lineup and really helped us out. Things are just going our way.”
ussoccer.com: How have you enjoyed the football in Denmark?
MP: “I really enjoy it. It’s a good style of play, and the level is really high. It’s a little different from MLS in the sense that teams play so much differently from top to bottom. Some teams play really good soccer, and some teams just play more physical and try to get their points that way. There’s a wide range of styles of play, and tactics is a big part of it.”
ussoccer.com: Do you feel playing in the Danish league has made you more cultured as a player?
MP: “I do. I think I’ve learned a lot, as far as tactics alone, different styles of play, different ways to go about the game – attacking and defensively. It’s really opened my eyes to how the game can be played. There are so many different ways and everything that goes into it. In New England, we kind of just focused on ourselves and played one way every time we went out there. Now we dissect the game a little bit more, and we vary things depending on the opponent. It’s opened my eyes a little bit.”
ussoccer.com: Many players have gone to Scandinavia and established careers and even leadership positions at their clubs – Clarence Goodson being a great example at Brondby. Do you feel you have reached that point at your club?
MP: “My role has definitely grown. I am one of the older guys on the team, probably the top four or five older guys on the team, so I think the coach definitely looks at me to take on more of a leadership role. I’ve never been a real big leader or a big talker – I try to lead by example. As far as talking a lot and rallying the guys, it’s not in my persona, but it’s definitely something that I’m trying to work on a little bit. I’m trying to teach some of the younger guys things that I’ve learned along the way because we do have a lot of younger guys on the team. Things are going well right now, but they don’t know how fast things can change.”
When it comes to leadership, is the Danish mentality different from the American mentality?
MP: “I wouldn’t say so. Brondby is a big club, and they didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on Clarence and make him the captain. He was only there maybe six months before he became captain, so I don’t think that they look at it too much differently than we do –someone who’s willing to be a spark for the team and lead not only in the locker room but on the field and lead by example. They put a lot of stress on their captain. They’re scrutinized a lot, as far as interviews before and after the game. If things are going well, it’s good for the captain. If things aren’t going well, it’s a tough role because the captain has got to be the one who’s the voice of the team, and it’s a difficult situation. I guess that’s part of it, though. As the captain, you need to do that to take some of the pressure off of the other guys.”
ussoccer.com: How’s your Danish coming along?
MP: “Very, very slowly. I understand most of the things that are said on the field, just from repetition, but I wouldn’t be able to have a conversation with a Dane off the field at all.”
ussoccer.com: You have two young kids now. What’s it like raising a family in Denmark?
MP: “It’s difficult. It’s difficult being away from family. We’ve got two kids under two, but that’s what we wanted. We wanted our kids close together, but it’s definitely a full-time job – full-time for my wife, and full-time when I’m away from soccer. But we love it. They’re great kids, and they make it easy for us. At times it’s difficult because you never get a break. There’s no parents to take them for a night so we can get out, so you miss that.”
What are the fans like at your club?
MP: “Unfortunately, we don’t have a huge fan base. We probably only get about 5,000 for our home games. Although it’s slowly increasing because the team’s doing better, we just struggle for fans because the other Copenhagen teams are so much bigger than us. Brondby and FC Copenhagen are the two big teams in the league, and pretty much everyone from Copenhagen supports one of those two teams. We’re about 15 minutes outside the city in a small community, so our fans are based from there. The fans that do come, they are your normal fans in Europe – they’re supportive, and they try to be as loud as possible. We appreciate their support, of course, but at the same time, it’s nice when we play Copenhagen and Brondby, and they bring their fans to our stadium. It’s a lot more fun to play in front of a good crowd.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve been a part of the National Team pool for a number of years. Do you follow the team when you’re with your club?
MP: “Of course I follow the team, even if I’m not involved, because you want to stay up to date with everything – who’s coming in, who’s going out, different players, the coaching staff and the way the team plays – so that you’re prepared when you do get the call. So of course I follow it, but I definitely don’t stress about getting called up anymore. It’s out of my hands, and whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. I hope to get called in every time, but I know that’s not going to happen. I just focus on my club play, and I know that if I’m doing well over there, eventually I’ll get a chance. I need to take advantage of the chances I get because I’m getting a little older, and who knows how many more chances I’ll get? I’m here to do that and have fun. I think that when I was a little younger, I was stressed out about when I came into the National Team, and now that I’m older, I’m a little more relaxed and laid back about it. Hopefully that will help me.”
ussoccer.com: This camp is a difficult three weeks, and then you go right back to Denmark. You could have turned it down and said, ‘This isn’t for me,’ but you’re here.
MP: “Definitely. It’s still the National Team, and it’s still the ultimate goal. Sure, the big players from Europe aren’t involved, but it’s still a chance to play in front of the coaching staff for two and a half weeks straight. You don’t get that opportunity very often, so I look at it as a huge positive for that aspect alone. Plus it keeps me out of the cold in Denmark for an extra three weeks, so that helps!”
ussoccer.com: Even though this is a new coaching staff, does having previous experience in January camps help you prepare and not stress out when you come into a situation like this?
MP: “I think a little bit. You try to come in as fit as possible because you know it’s a very difficult camp, and you want to come in with a base in fitness. The experience helps in knowing how long the camp lasts, and sometimes it drags after a week or 10 days. It can be long, and you just have to stay with it mentally and not let it drag on you and be prepared mentally every day for training. That’s a big part of it, just to stay focused and stay hungry. I think it helps that we have two games this year, so it’s a little bit less training every day. We’ve got two games to prepare for. That will be fun.”
ussoccer.com: Knowing Jurgen’s philosophy and seeing the team’s style of play, do you feel that it has opened a window for you?
MP: “I hope so. I know the 4-3-3; it’s the same formation that we play with my club team. I think keeping the ball out of back is important, and obviously that’s one of my strengths. Being a smaller guy, I have to play to my strengths and bring those qualities to the team, and one of the things is definitely playing out of the back. I hope I’m able to do that to a high level during camp, and hopefully Jurgen will appreciate that. But it’s a little bit different of a style than Bob [Bradley] had, and I haven’t been able to play in the system under Jurgen yet, so I’m looking forward to getting that chance and seeing up-close how he wants us to play and how I can fit in and hopefully help the team.”
ussoccer.com: We’ve blogged about your reunion with Jeff Larentowicz. Does seeing him bring back good memories?
MP: “Yeah, definitely. We had a lot of good years in New England. We were just reminiscing at dinner tonight, talking about Taylor [Twellman] and how he used to crack jokes, him and [Steve] Ralston and [Pat] Noonan together. We had a great time. It was four good years that Jeff and I had together. We had a good team, and unfortunately we didn’t have an MLS Cup to look back on, but it was a good four years. We had a lot of fun. Obviously things aren’t the same in New England these days, which is a shame, but it was fun to be a part of.”
ussoccer.com: You’re also representing Rhode Island and Bayside FC Bolts with Geoff Cameron ...
MP: “No doubt. Geoff and I go way back, too. He’s from just outside Rhode Island, but he considers himself a Rhode Island guy, I think. It’s a small state, so it’s nice that we were both able to get as far as we have. To meet up on a stage like this with the National Team, it’s nice for the club. Bayside was a great club. That’s where I learned to have fun with soccer. That’s where it all started for both of us. Winning trophies and playing indoor soccer and just loving it, like every little kid does. Playing six games in two days and not being tired and going out there all the time. Those days were a lot of fun. Luckily I’m still able to do it 20 years later, and I’m still having fun. Thankfully I was able to be a part of that club.”