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Atlanta United mostly healthy ahead of MLS Cup, captain Michael Parkhurst ‘ready to go’

Apr 15, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United head coach Gerardo Martino, center, talks with defender Michael Parkhurst as they walk onto the field before their game against New York City at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

MARIETTA, Ga. — The last time Atlanta United FC and the Portland Timbers met on a Major League Soccer pitch was back in June, with the two sides playing to a 1-1 draw at the Five Stripes’ Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

But Atlanta United was not a full strength for that game. Starting left back Greg Garza, a 2017 MLS All-Star, was out after having surgery on his shoulder. Darlington Nagbe got hurt midway through the game. Veteran defender Chris McCann was also out.

This time around, things are a bit different. Atlanta United is near full health heading into the 2018 MLS Cup Final at 8 p.m. ET Saturday. The only players unavailable are reserve fullbacks Mikey Ambrose and Sal Zizzo, according to head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino. Both players had knee surgeries earlier this season.

Some worried Atlanta might be without its captain for the match after Michael Parkhurst missed training Monday and Tuesday. The veteran centerback suffered what looked like an ankle injury near the end of the Five Stripes’ second leg playoff game against the New York Red Bulls last Thursday.

But Parkhurst trained Wednesday and Thursday and is on track to play in his fifth MLS Cup.

“I feel great,” Parkhurst said Thursday at the club’s training grounds. “I was limited early in the week, but the last couple of days I’ve been back full with the team. I’m 100 percent and ready to go.”

Nov 25, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United defender Michael Parkhurst (3) tackles New York Red Bulls midfielder Derrick Etienne (7) during the second half of the first leg of the MLS Eastern Conference Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports)

Martino doesn’t expect his captain to be limited whatsoever and said he won’t make any tactical changes to accommodate him.

“It’s a final, so we’re not changing anything,” Martino said. “(Parkhurst) didn’t train fully the first two days, but he’s good now, so we’re expecting out of him exactly what we’ve expected all season.”           

Parkhurst, 34, missed just two starts for Atlanta United this season. He subbed on in the Five Stripes’ season-opener, a loss to the Houston Dynamo, and remained on the bench for a home win against Real Salt Lake in September.

After injuring his shoulder May 20 against the Red Bulls, Garza had surgery and missed nearly all of the remaining games in the regular season. He returned as a substitute in the regular-season finale, playing 62 minutes in the Five Stripes’ 4-1 loss in Toronto. He regained his starting role as a left wingback and has started in every playoff game.

Garza said he didn’t watch too much of Atlanta’s game in June against Portland, but he knows the scouting report on the Timbers.

“While I was injured, the last thing I wanted to see was a soccer ball, so I paid enough attention to Portland to know that they have some guys up top that have a lot of talent,” Garza said. “They’re a talented group. If not, they wouldn’t be in the position that they are. We’ve gone through a couple of elements this week to really be in tune and keep our concentration levels as high as possible.”

Nov 29, 2018; Harrison, NJ, USA; Atlanta United defender Michael Parkhurst (3) holds up the trophy as the team celebrates after defeating the New York Red Bulls in the MLS Eastern Conference Championship at Red Bull Arena. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

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