Christmas came early for Atlanta United FC and Michael Parkhurst.
The two sides agreed to a contract on Saturday, bringing the 34-year-old centerback and captain back to the reigning Major League Soccer Cup champions for at least one more season.
Parkhurst has been with the Five Stripes before the team ever took the pitch. The day after the 2016 MLS Cup, Atlanta United traded for Parkhurst in a deal with Columbus Crew SC. Shortly after, he was named the team’s first captain and became an important piece of Gerardo Martino’s teams in 2017 and 2018.
No other Atlanta player has started more games (70) or logged more minutes (6,311) than Parkhurst, who was an MLS All-Star the past two seasons and a finalist for the league’s Defender of the Year award in 2018. In the playoffs, Parkhurst anchored a defense that allowed just two goals over five games.
“Michael has played an important role for our team over the past two seasons and we’re pleased to have re-signed him,” Atlanta United Vice President and Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra said in a statement. “Since joining the club, he has served as an excellent captain and his experience and leadership is invaluable for our group.”
Parkhurst started all but two games this past season and led an Atlanta defense that finished fourth in fewest goals allowed. He was fourth in MLS with 154 clearances and committed the third-fewest fouls by a defender, being called on by a referee just 16 times. Among MLS defenders, Parkhurst finished with the third-highest passing accuracy in 2018, completing 87.7 percent of his passes.
On Dec. 8, the Providence, Rhode Island native played in fifth MLS Cup, which turned out to be his first win in the league’s biggest match. In the 39th minute, Parkhurst delivered a tackle that dispossessed Portland’s Jeremy Ebobisse and led to the Five Stripes’ first goal. After Parkhurst’s slide into the ball, it rolled into Portland’s penalty box, where Golden Boot winner and league MVP Josef Martinez recovered the ball and scored.
Atlanta went on to win 2-0 over the Timbers. On the field after the game, Parkhurst accepted the cup from team owner Arthur Blank, ran up the steps of the stage and lifted the trophy high above his head as confetti rained down on him and his teammates.
4 times he made it to MLS Cup and fell short. On the 5th, his dream came true.
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) December 22, 2018
The day after MLS Cup, Atlanta United had roster moves to make and declined the option on Parkhurst’s contract, but immediately said they were working on a new deal with Parkhurst. But the option decline technically made the veteran a free agent and it wasn’t always a guarantee he would return to Atlanta. On Dec. 18, ESPN’s Taylor Twellman said that Atlanta “asked (Parkhurst) to take a paycut” and that Toronto FC, Chicago Fire and NYCFC were “in the mix” to land the defender.
It’s unclear how long this new deal for Parkhurst is, or how much it will pay him, as the terms of the deal were not made public. A club spokesman declined to comment on the specifics of the deal. This past season, Parkhurst earned an annual salary of $340,008, according to figures released by the MLS Players’ Association. The only Atlanta defenders paid higher than Parkhurst were Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Chris McCann.
Parkhurst has been a pro since 2005, when he began his career with the New England Revolution. After playing in Denmark and Germany for a bit, he returned to MLS in 2014 with the Crew. He is a six-time MLS All-Star and also has 25 caps with the U.S. national team.
As the club’s captain, Parkhurst will be a key figure in the locker room over the next few months as Atlanta United adjusts to new head coach Frank de Boer. The Five Stripes will also have to juggle playing in several different competitions in 2019, including Concacaf Champions League, which begins in February.