Michael Parkhurst is a CONCACAF Gold Cup veteran, having made his first international appearance in the previous edition of this tournament. In 2009, he's played in both games thus far, coming on as a sub against Grenada and playing the full 90 minutes against Honduras. We asked him about his experience from two years ago, his life with club team Nordsjaelland of Denmark, and his return to the Boston area...
ussoccer.com: You made your national team debut during the 2007 Gold Cup and now you're back defending a title you helped win two years ago. Is there a sense of personal pride in the fact that you're helping to defend a championship you helped the U.S. win?
Michael Parkhurst: It is special anytime you're a part of a big tournament like this. I did get my first cap in 2007 and to have it in a meaningful game in this tournament was nice. It added to the whole environment. To be back here, to be part of the team and to defend the crown is nice. We all are trying to do our best out here to show that we belong with the national team and the Gold Cup is an important step for all of us in that way. It's good to be back, it's a big tournament within the region and it holds significant value for us.
ussoccer.com: What do you remember most about your first cap and about that tournament?
MP: Getting the first cap was special, and I remember that day out in L.A. against Trinidad. Other than that just being with the team for a few weeks was great. It was all pretty new at that point and it was fun to be around the guys, being in the winning environment in tournament play and just moving from game to game, seeing the team perform. When we got into the later stages I didn't dress much and I was up in the stands watching. It was awesome to see the team do well and to know that I was a part of it. The celebration on the field after the championship was a lot of fun.
ussoccer.com: It's been two years since the U.S. celebrated on the pitch at Soldier Field. How are things different this time around?
MP: Obviously it's a new group of guys this time and not too many from 2007 are on the team. Similarly to two years ago though it's a good bunch of guys, and we have a good time with each other off the field. We have good chemistry and this time around we have a few more younger guys fighting for spots. It's a little bit different but there's the same mentality: we're always out there to win.
ussoccer.com: You signed for Nordsjaelland in late 2008 and moved over there for the second half of the season. How has your experience been so far?
MP: The first season was difficult. From people I've talked to who have gone abroad, it takes a little bit of an adjustment period and I think I went through that as well. There were a lot of learning curves. There were some games where I didn't play as well as I would have hoped to and some games where I did play well. It's just difficult to adapt to a new environment and you have to try to do it as quick as possible. Off the field was good for me and there weren't too many distractions there, but you have to get used to a new league, new coaching staff, new teammates and a new way to go about the game. Overall though I enjoyed it and I think it's been a good move for me. I'm looking forward to having a full season with the team.
ussoccer.com: When you take a step like that in your career, undoubtedly there are all sorts of people who brief you on what to expect. Is there any way to prepare for a situation like moving to a club team in Europe or is it almost a trial by fire regardless of what you hear or expect?
MP: It's a little bit of both. You have to have an open mindset and know that there are going to be some difficult times. There wasn't too much of a language barrier, since everyone speaks very good English in Denmark. But they still do speak Danish on the field and the coaching staff still speaks Danish. It's just getting used to trying to pick up little things and trying to be more aware. In games it's about adapting as quick as possible and hoping that if you make mistakes they don't hurt the team. There's not too much that could prepare you for that but it's more about trials and tribulations. You just go and try to get the experience, which is what I tried to do in the first six months.
ussoccer.com: How about off the field? How has living in Denmark been for you?
MP: Living in Denmark has been good. I have an apartment in downtown Copenhagen, which is a great city. The people are very friendly which has helped me out a lot. I was neighbors with somebody on the team so I had somebody to hang out with, since my wife hasn't moved out yet. Off the field there were not many problems and it was a pretty smooth transition. My teammates were very helpful and friendly as far as getting me acclimated and people there are very friendly and willing to help. I like the European way of living, which was more laid back than I was used to, and I like everything so far.
ussoccer.com: You're from Providence, R.I., and you started your career with the New England Revolution. How does it feel to be back home?
MP: It's always nice to be back. It's nice to be back in the U.S. hanging out with guys I've played with here and there and become friends with. It's especially nice we have a game up here in Boston, and I'll be able to meet up with some family and friends I haven't seen for awhile. I'm excited to play at the old stomping grounds again and [Gillette Stadium] is where my career started. I had a lot of good memories back there, and it'll be nice to get back and see teammates and the coaching staff.
ussoccer.com: There are a few Olympic veterans on this team and after the first game they talked about the chemistry that group formed in Beijing. How does last year’s experience at the Olympic shape this team and shape the guys who took part in that tournament?
MP: I think everybody that played in the Olympics had a great experience there. We bonded and we were together for awhile. We have a special bond, and I think we'll always remember that experience together. I think that translates also to on the field performances. It's just easier when you've played with people before, just knowing little tendencies and how they like the ball and what runs they make. It's a younger group here and that's why there's a few of us from the Olympic team together. Everybody on this team has great chemistry, and I think that's something that the younger guys brought from the Olympic team. We had a strong bond there and that has continued here.
ussoccer.com: In 2007 the U.S. won its first two group games en route to finishing top of the group. What do you take from that experience in 2009, where we've had similar results in our first two games?
MP: Most important right now is us finishing first in the group. We want the best path to the final and that means less travel and possibly an easier matchup in the quarterfinals. We need to go out and get at least a draw to clinch first place. From there it's just keeping the mentality of "if you lose you go home." I think most of us have been in that situation before, whether it be playoffs, Olympics or other instances. We all know what it takes, and what it will take, once we get to those stages to continue moving on. We all know we're capable of getting to the final and doing well, so those are the expectations.