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US defender happy to be back with MLS

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POSTED May 21, 2014 12:25 a.m.

STANFORD (AP) — One ill-timed bout with the flu sure affected Michael Parkhurst’s fortunes in a hurry with his new German club team, Augsburg.

The American defender made two appearances in February 2013, then missed two games while sick. When he returned, he only dressed three more times for the club and never got into another match during his year in Germany.

Now, Parkhurst is thrilled to be back in Major League Soccer with the Columbus Crew at age 30, and he reported to the U.S. World Cup training camp last week hoping to land a spot on Jurgen Klinsmann’s 23-man roster headed to Brazil next month. The U.S. team was scheduled for scrimmages Tuesday, a week before an exhibition against Azerbaijan at Candlestick Park.

“It’s definitely good to be back part of a team and battling with the guys week in and week out, just to be part of a locker room that’s really close knit and we’ve got good chemistry,” Parkhurst said. “To be one of the leaders on the team as well, it’s just a total 180 from last year, for the better.”

The 2005 MLS Rookie of the Year and ‘07 Defender of the Year with the New England Revolution, Parkhurst had established himself with Denmark’s Nordsjaelland during parts of five seasons starting in early 2009. The move to the Bundesliga figured to be a step up, but the man who recruited him, Juergen Rollmann, was replaced by former German national team defender Stefan Reuter before Parkhurst arrived.

Parkhurst wound up making just the two appearances for Augsburg, entering in the 42nd minute against Mainz on Feb. 10 last year and starting six days later against Bayer Leverkusen.

“It was the first time in my career kind of on the outside looking in, not really a part of the team week in and week out, being out there on the field contributing,” he said. “You just try at that point to be a good professional and wait your turn and see what’s next, because I knew that something else would be coming up.”

All spring long, he stayed after his regular training with the Crew to take extra crosses and runs from the left side to make himself more valuable.

“He’s continuing to grow as a player,” U.S. forward Chris Wondolowski said. “He learned a lot over there in Europe and hopefully can incorporate it over here.”

To make sure he secures his seat on the plane to Brazil, Parkhurst knows he needs to do a little bit more, like stay after practice — though he insists most everybody is doing the same thing at this crucial stage.

“He’s a calm player, a guy that of course brings good leadership and good experience,” fellow U.S. defender Clarence Goodson said. “That’s hard to beat. He’s a guy who doesn’t make many mistakes. I think he’s a great addition to any team. I think he will make the World Cup team and I think he’ll do a good job and have a good chance to play.”

With his status — and even his position — still up in the air, Parkhurst realizes he must control what he can: training hard from whatever spot, staying fit and delivering during matches when he gets his opportunity.

“I’m somebody who brings a lot of experience to the team, I’ve got good chemistry. I hope the versatility helps me in the end,” Parkhurst said. “I don’t know if I’m fighting for left back or right back. It doesn’t matter for me. Wherever I can help the team, wherever I can either solidify a position in the 11 or the 23, I’ll do it. He knows that I’m a guy who puts the team first.”

Crew coach Gregg Berhalter, a member of the 2002 and ‘06 U.S. World Cup teams, echoes that. Parkhurst has been a great addition, and Berhalter can provide plenty of insight as the defender prepares for perhaps the biggest moment yet in his career.

“It’s a huge event. The advice is enjoy it,” Berhalter said. “They’re on the world stage and it’s an opportunity to play in front of everyone’s eyes. That’s what hit me the most in playing some of those World Cup games. The whole world is watching.”

Parkhurst was pleased with how he performed in a January training camp in Sao Paulo, and also the past two exhibitions.

“With every game, with every performance you feel like your shot’s getting stronger and stronger. It definitely helps that the Crew play an attacking style of soccer, that we came out of the gates and played well, even though we’ve struggled of late,” Parkhurst said. “That start was really important because Jurgen definitely likes guys who are on winning teams.”

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