Michael Parkhurst '100 percent' for MLS Cup amid ankle injury fears
MARIETTA, Georgia -- Atlanta United defender Michael Parkhurst says he is "100 percent" ready for Saturday's MLS Cup final against the Portland Timbers, and is suffering no ill effects from the ankle injury he sustained in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Championship against the New York Red Bulls.
Following a late collision with teammate Leandro Gonzalez Pirez in that match, there were initial fears that Parkhurst might miss out on Saturday's game. But Parkhurst said he is back to full strength.
"I feel great," he said at Thursday's news conference. "I was limited early in the week, but the last couple of days I'm back full with the team. I'm 100 percent and ready to go."
That counts as good news for Atlanta manager Tata Martino, who has relied on Parkhurst's steady play in the back throughout the season.
"It's a final, so we're not changing anything," said Martino with the help of a translator. "Aside from the fact [Parkhurst] didn't train fully the first two days, he's good now, and we're expecting out of him exactly what we've expected from him all season."
Parkhurst will be taking part in his fifth MLS Cup final, but he has yet to be on the winning side, having lost three times as a member of the New England Revolution and once in 2015 with the Columbus Crew. That has made him the target of some good-natured ribbing from teammates in the run-up to the match.
"Julian Gressel made a good point earlier in the week. He said, 'We've been listening to Parky's advice up to this point, but I don't think we should listen to his advice this week.' He's probably right there," Parkhurst said. "But my advice was to try and get all the distracting things done early in week -- the tickets, the accommodations, all that stuff. Once the game starts, we'll have a couple of messages for the team, but really it's just to enjoy the opportunity that we've got in front of us."
This final counts as Parkhurst's best chance yet to win a title given the firepower that the Five Stripes possess. But the defender is well aware of the damage Portland can do, especially considering that it was against the Timbers in 2015 that Parkhurst suffered his most recent MLS Cup final heartbreak, despite the Crew having home-field advantage.
"We have to be at our best in order to beat them," he said. "Just because we have a home game doesn't guarantee us anything. I know that first hand. They are a dangerous team that can hurt you in many ways. They're strong defensively, very good on set pieces and they're attacking pieces one-on-one can hurt you. They've got [Diego] Valeri, who is one of the best No. 10s the league has ever seen."
Martino knows his side will need to balance trying to entertain the home crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium with being disciplined in the back.
"We expect to have the initiative in this game, it's something we're prepared for," said Martino. "Similar to first game this season when we played against them, we expect them to defend and get out quickly on counter, something they do very well."