Michael Parkhurst

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Brilliant Barco assist helps Atlanta outlast New England

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The game in 200 words (or less): Highly-favored at home, the reigning champions needed their goalkeeper to keep them alive against a New England Revolution side that only made the postseason via MLS’ decision to let almost everyone make it. Yes, Atlanta United dodged a bullet as Brad Guzan made six saves and Ezequiel Barco’s slick pass set up Franco Escobar for a brilliant winner with about 20 minutes to play. New England fought to the very death, but couldn’t take advantage of the absence of Miles Robinson.

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Soon-to-retire Michael Parkhurst appeared to dislocate his shoulder late in a challenge with Cristian Penilla, and needed a lot of help to get off the field. Hopefully that wasn’t the last we see of him.

Atlanta will host either Philadelphia or the New York Red Bulls on Thursday evening.

Three things we learned

1. Guzan overcomes blip to stand tall: The longtime USMNT backup made a major error and nearly allowed New England in front but was otherwise sensational over 90 minutes in Georgia.

2. Martinez off, and Martinez off: While Frank De Boer opted to keep Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez out of the Starting XI, it was his star striker who nearly made him pay for the decision. Josef Martinez was not on his game, and lashed a should-be winner from his office over the goal in the first half before being stopped on by Turner on a 1v1 as the match neared stoppage time.

3. Barco makes the difference: Who knows if the 20-year-old Argentine will ever fully deliver on his promise, but the plays he made to set up Escobar’s goal was sensational. After dancing around a pair of defenders, he cut a shot pass between two defenders for the on-running Escobar to blast past Matt Turner.

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Man of the match: Barco

Goalscorers: Escobar (70′)

Atlanta United’s retiring Parkhurst took under-appreciated road

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We tend to throw the term “underrated” around a bit too casually, but it absolutely applies to Michael Parkhurst.

The Atlanta United fullback and 25-cap USMNT veteran is hanging up his boots after this Major League Soccer season, the latest in a career which runs a decade-and-a-half long.

The 35-year-old won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with both New England and Atlanta, won two Danish Cups and a Superliga with Nordsjaelland, and finally claimed the MLS Cup last year.

[ MORE: Five USWNT players make Best XI ]

At Nordsjaelland, he played in six UEFA Champions League games and four in the Europa League, matching up with the likes of Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Juventus in the former and Sporting Lisbon over two seasons of the latter (even manning some center mid).

Parkhurst success in Denmark earned him a move to Germany’s Bundesliga with Augsburg, though he was littled used before returning to MLS.

As a member of the USMNT, he won two Gold Cups and is one of the best Americans to not have been named to a World Cup roster.

There will be a day where an American player with his resume will be less remarkable, in large part to the chances taken by players like Parkhurst.

Atlanta United, USMNT veteran Parkhurst to retire

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Michael Parkhurst has announced he will retire at the end of the 2019 Major League Soccer season.

Parkhurst, 35, has had a legendary career as the defender with the USMNT, New England Revolution, Atlanta United, the Columbus Crew, Danish side Nordsjaelland and in Germany with FC Augsburg.

The Rhode Island native was the first Atlanta United captain in club history and has been ever present for them over the past three seasons.

Parkhurst led Atlanta to the 2018 MLS Cup and is a six-time MLS All Star who was also named MLS’ Best Defender (2007) and Rookie of the Year (2005). ATL also won the Campeones Cup and the U.S. Open Cup with Parkhurst anchoring their back line.

Atlanta United Vice President and Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra paid tribute to his former USMNT teammate.

“We want to congratulate Michael on an illustrious career and thank him for immense contributions to Atlanta United,” Bocanegra said. “His career accolades speak for themselves, but during his time in Atlanta, he was a consummate professional and played an integral role for us, both on-and-off the field. In addition to solidifying our back line for the 2018 MLS Cup Championship run, he was also an influential figure in building our club’s culture and we’re forever indebted to him for that. We wish him the best in his future endeavors and he’ll always be welcome back at Atlanta United.”

This is what Parkhurst had to say after calling time on his 15-year professional career.

Parkhurst is as solid and reliable as defenders come.

Either at center back or right back he is a clever defender who uses the ball well and does all of the basic things with supreme ease. He played for the USMNT 25 times, and probably should have played for them more, as he won two Gold Cups and also went to the 2008 Olympic games for the Stars and Stripes.

He will no doubt be a valuable addition to any MLS team when it comes to stepping into coaching or any other front office role.

Parkhurst’s main aim now will be to end the season on a high with Atlanta as they aim to seal back-to-back MLS Cups with Frank De Boer‘s side still battling to be crowned the Eastern Conference champs ahead of the playoffs kicking off next month.

MLS eager to show off Atlanta success story at All-Star Game

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ATLANTA (AP) The MLS All-Star Game is more than the league showing off its best players against Italian powerhouse Juventus.

It’s a chance to flaunt one of its biggest success stories.

The A-T-L.

Atlanta United has shattered just about every MLS attendance record since joining the league in 2017 , which made it a natural choice to host the All-Star Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Another mark could fall in Wednesday night’s match, expected to lure upwards of 70,000 fans to this technological marvel of a stadium.

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“That’s why the game is here,” said United defender Michael Parkhurst, one of five players from league-leading Atlanta picked for the MLS team. “It’s to showcase the city itself, the stadium, the atmosphere that we create here. It’s special.”

Indeed, there’s nothing unusual about drawing such a mammoth soccer crowd in Atlanta.

In its debut season, United shattered the league record by averaging 48,200 per game – more than doubling all but three other teams in MLS. The club is projected to go even higher this season, averaging nearly 52,000 through its first dozen home matches.

The top five individual game crowds in MLS history have all been in Atlanta, which has eclipsed 70,000 for every regular-season match in which the upper deck has been open . The target to beat for an All-Star Game is 70,728, which was the record turnout for the 2010 match at Houston’s NFL stadium.

If the weather forecast holds – there was a strong chance of thunderstorms – the camera lens-resembling roof will be closed to ensure a comfortable setting for both the players and the big crowd.

Too bad.

The complex structure only recently began operating properly, allowing it to open or close in less than 10 minutes .

Every other aspect of the $1.5 billion stadium has drawn rave reviews, setting it up to be one of the leading venues for the 2026 World Cup that will be largely hosted by the United States. The winning bid, which also includes Mexico and Canada, calls for six games to be held in Atlanta – including a semifinal.

The stadium has already developed quite a reputation in MLS, with its chanting, flag-waving fans showing off their passion while giving United a huge home-field edge.

“It’s surprising,” New York Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips said before a workout Tuesday at the stadium. “I heard a lot of talk before they came into the league about how it was going to be. I wasn’t sure, but playing here and watching them on TV, the support these players have is amazing.”

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Since the current All-Star Game format was adopted in 2005, pitting a team of MLS stars against a prominent club from Europe, the American-based league holds a 7-6 edge.

Of course, this game means a lot more to MLS than it does to the opponent.

Juventus, which is riding a streak of seven straight titles in Serie A, is merely tuning up for a league season than begins in less than two weeks. The Italian club already played two exhibitions in the U.S. as part of the International Champions Cup – beating Germany’s Bayern Munich and Portugal’s Benfica – and has one more friendly Saturday against Real Madrid before returning to Europe.

Juventus didn’t bring along five-time FIFA Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo, acquired from Real Madrid a few weeks ago in a record transfer deal for a player older than 30.

Still recovering from the World Cup, Ronaldo remained in Italy to train, along with new teammates Gonzalo Higuain, Juan Cuadrado, Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala.

Manager Massimiliano Allegri is confident that his squad is ready to make another title run in Serie A.

“There isn’t much to do,” he said through a translator. “We have the defenders. We have the midfielders. It’s just a matter of deciding who are the two or three in front who are basically going to put the ball in the goal.”

The MLS team also will be missing one of its top players – LA Galaxy star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who ranks second in the league with 15 goals.

The 36-year-old Swede chose to not to make the cross-country trip to Atlanta after playing three league matches over a nine-day span, saying he was more focused on leading his streaking team to the playoffs. Under league rules, he’ll also have to skip the Galaxy’s next match against Colorado on Saturday.

Commissioner Don Garber told reporters he was “disappointed” that Ibrahimovic would skip “the most important special event that the league has.”

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry

For more AP soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/MLSsoccer

United, they stand: Atlanta quickly embraces new MLS team

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ATLANTA (AP) The stands are packed with red-and-black-clad fans who chant incessantly, accompanied by a steady drumbeat and swirling flags.

“Atlanta!” they shout from one end of Bobby Dodd Stadium

“United!” everyone else responds.

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There’s plenty to cheer about with an expansion team that has already displayed a dynamic style of play, scoring 11 goals in its first three games.

It’s early, but say this: Atlanta has really embraced Major League Soccer.

“It’s like a party out there every time you take the field,” midfielder Julian Gressel said. “Even coming out for warmups, you get goosebumps on your body. It’s just a great feeling.”

While impressive on the field, winning the last two games by a combined score of 10-1, United’s best work has some in the stands.

The inaugural contest, a 2-1 loss to New York Red Bulls that United led most of the way before surrendering two late goals, attracted a sellout of 55,297 to a stadium best known as the home of Georgia Tech’s college football team.

[ MORE: Should injured USMNT be worried? ]

It was larger than any crowd drawn this past season by the Yellow Jackets.

That was followed by turnout of 45,922 for Saturday’s 4-0 blowout of Chicago – another sellout, essentially, since the school closed off 10,000 seats in the upper deck for previously planned renovation work.

Not too shabby, considering United won’t even move into its permanent home, $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, until late July.

“The support has been just amazing. We’re very, very fortunate that we’ve got this atmosphere to play in front of,” defender Michael Parkhurst said. “We don’t want to take it for granted. We want to make this a real fortress and a place where teams dread to come to play.”

United is one of two new franchises that joined MLS this season, but it hardly has the look of a neophyte organization.

Not with a big-pockets owner such as Arthur Blank, who also owns the NFL Falcons. Not with a well-known coach such as Gerardo “Tata” Martino, whose previous stints include Barcelona and guiding the mighty Argentina national team. Not with a roster that includes Josef Martinez, a 23-year-old Venezuelan on loan from Italian Serie A club Torino, as well as players such as Miguel Almiron, Hector Villalba and Yamil Asad to press the attack.

[ MORE: Man Utd heading to USA this summer ]

 Atlanta United forward Martinez (AP Photo/Todd Kirkland, File)

Martinez already has an MLS-leading five goals, including two of the world-class variety in United’s latest victory.

Taking advantage of a Fire team that played most of the game a man down, Almiron threaded a pass between four defenders to send Martinez into the clear for his first goal in the 60th minute. Then, after another brilliant pass from Asad, the speedy forward flicked the ball away from the goalkeeper and managed to slowly curl the ball just inside the far post in the 82nd to finish off the rout.

“Josef Martinez is probably the best forward in this league,” Gressel said. “It’s not surprising to me that we can go out there and score four or five goals a game.”

After an international break, United faces a very tough stretch that will give a better indication of whether this team is a legitimate playoff contender in its very first season. Atlanta plays its next four games on the road before finally returning home April 30.

“It’s definitely still an expansion team,” Parkhurst said. “We’ve got our bumps and bruises along the way. Off the field, everyone’s still trying to get sorted and situated to the new city.”

Indeed, United’s debut hasn’t been entirely smooth.

In addition to blowing a lead in the opener, some Atlanta fans came under fire for chanting an anti-gay slur . Team officials quickly apologized and vowed to toss anyone who did it again. The crowd was on its best behavior Saturday, even unveiling a banner before the game that said, “Give Racism A Red Card.”

After the match was over, a long line snaked up to a merchandise stand on the west side of Bobby Dodd Stadium, everyone standing eagerly with credit cards in hand to gobble up more United gear.

In a city starved for championships, especially after the Falcons squandered a 25-point lead and lost to New England in last month’s Super Bowl, this team has provided a quick salve.

“It’s really special,” said goalkeeper Alec Kann, a native of the Atlanta area. “Things are moving in the right direction, for sure.”

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .

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