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Jan 7, 2009

Parkhurst: It was now or never for Europe

Editor's note: Coming in Part 2 of this interview on Thursday, Parkhurst gives us his thoughts about the U.S. national team.

After four outstanding seasons in MLS with the New England Revolution, Michael Parkhurst is set to begin the next chapter of his career in Denmark with Nordsjælland. Before joining up with his new teammates, the 24-year-old defender spoke exclusively to ESPNSoccernet.

ESPNSoccernet: What do you know about Nordsjælland and the Danish league in general?

Michael Parkhurst: I know a couple of guys from the U.S. that play [in Denmark] -- Danny Califf and Heath Pearce -- from meeting up with those guys in January camps [with the national team] and them talking about the league. I know Jeremiah White as well, but other than that, I didn't really know too much about it.

The more and more I have heard about it, the more I hear they play good football over there, as far as Scandinavia goes, from what I have heard and seen, [the Danish league] plays the best football. That is what has been said about the club I am going to. Everybody says they are one of the most technical teams, they like to keep the ball on the ground and work the ball through midfield and play it out of the back, which is obviously important for me and a team that I want to be a part of.

ESPNSoccernet: What did Nordsjælland coach Morten Wieghorst say about his expectations for you? What sort of system does the team play?

MP: I think we'll definitely be playing a four-man back. He gave me a few game tapes to look at and learn how they go about things. The do build the ball out of the back as much as possible and he said that he wanted center backs who are good on the ball and who want the ball. He said that that was something I could bring to the table.

Right now, they're a very young team. I guess the average age for their last few games was 22 or 21 so he is trying to bring in a couple of veterans, trying to bring in some leadership as well. Even though I'm pretty young, I do have a good amount of experience and hopefully can bring some of the leadership qualities that I have learned over the past few years to the team. [Wieghorst] thinks that is important as well.

ESPNSoccernet: Do you know how long had you been on Nordsjælland's radar as a transfer target?

MP: I'm not exactly sure. I didn't really want to know until after the MLS season was over. I told my agent that I wanted him to get on top of things and make sure teams were watching me and everything, but I was kind of staying out of it so I could focus on the playoffs and the end of the season.

I think they saw a game or two live but I don't know for sure. They did see a lot of tape on me as well. We were looking at other options too, but in the end, this one turned out to the best one.

ESPNSoccernet: What made Nordsjælland's the best offer?

MP: It was a combination of things. It is certainly tough, I think, coming from MLS with not a whole lot of international experience to try and get a good contract in a good league so I was really fortunate that Nordsjælland took a chance on me to sign me without a trial.

We had guys coming in [at New England] on trial and potential future teammates don't really treat you too well and you never really know what they'll be doing the week you're in. They can do a lot of tactical stuff, which makes things hard.

So I was not keen on going on trial and most of the other teams that were interested wanted me to go in on trial first. Nordsjælland was the exception so then it just came down to sorting out a contract, and it ended up being a good opportunity for me to further my career.

ESPNSoccernet: Do you feel any pressure after signing a three-year deal?

MP: I haven't yet. Any time you're put in that position to perform and help a team, then pressure comes with that. I've played with pressure before, though, as a rookie at the Revolution and in the Olympics. It doesn't bother me too much.

I think it's a good situation for me with the way they play and the coaching staff. I think I'll be able to show well and play well and help the team improve in the standings. I don't feel any pressure, just more excitement and looking forward to the new challenge.

ESPNSoccernet: In recent times, a lot of American players have gone to Europe, but many have returned soon afterwards. How do you make sure that your move works out?

MP: I think that, signing with the team we did, we definitely took into account other Americans and how they fared overseas. We didn't want to overshoot ourselves too much with a club where I would not have played too much. I am too young right now to be sitting on the bench and wasting good years trying to get into a team. I didn't want to waste my time playing reserve games; I want to be playing first-team ball. That was something that was very important.

Also, outside of football, standard of living was important. It can be tough, especially when you first move to Europe if you go to a place where they don't speak any English and they don't try and help you and you're not in a major city. Football is one thing, but you've also got to live there and I think that is where a lot of guys face difficulties.

Living in Copenhagen is a great fit because the people are very friendly and everybody speaks English as a second language. The team was very helpful in accommodating us, and I think that, off the field, it helps you to have no distractions on it. It lets you focus on playing.

ESPNSoccernet: Was there ever a chance you would stay in MLS?

MP: Minute, I would say. First and foremost, I wanted to get over to Europe. I have had a great four years in MLS with the Revolution and I loved my time there. I think I really developed as a player and thought the league was a great start for my career, but it is time to move on and challenge myself further to see how far I can take my career, rather than staying in MLS.

I think that, had I not moved right now, I never would have. It was a kind of a "now or never" to try out for Europe. My wife was up for the challenge of moving and starting something new, so that helped out a lot. If she didn't want to go then that would have been tough. So she was up for it and I was up for it, so we wanted to see if it could happen.

Andrew Hush is a soccer researcher for ESPN International. He can be reached at a.hush@yahoo.com.

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