Goal.com reported on Wednesday that Columbus defender Michael Parkhurst will be traded to the expansion Atlanta United for allocation money. Massive Report can confirm that the trade has been on hold during the league's trade freeze. It's unclear if the trade includes an agreement for Atlanta not to select a Crew SC player in the upcoming Expansion Draft. Parkhurst is out of contract and has not appeared to be in the team's plans going forward.
Parkhurst joined Crew SC in January 2014 and quickly becoming a mainstay for Gregg Berhalter's team. Berhalter gave him the captain's armband and Parkhurst played 100 regular season games and seven playoff games in his three seasons in Columbus including playing all but 24 minutes in 2016. However, there were growing signs this summer that Parkhurst's tenure with the team could be coming to an end. Parkhurst stated he felt he was a starter in the league, but the team had just brought in Nicolai Naess to shore up the defense. Naess is a very similar player to Parkhurst, but nine years younger than the 32 year old Parkhurst.
The upcoming Parkhurst move, coupled with the likely departure of Steve Clark points to Berhalter and the technical staff directly taking on one of the core weaknesses for Crew SC last season. While the defense was subpar, the team was especially poor on set piece defending. Neither Parkhurst and Clark excelled in those situations.
The move will likely work for all parties. Crew SC was clearly moving on from Parkhurst and he was likely to be exposed in the Expansion Draft. Berhalter now gets allocation funds for a player that wasn't coming back. Atlanta is building a strong team on year one, but don't have solidity in defense. They likely believe that Parkhurst can provide that back line leadership in a system that is less likely to highlight his weaknesses. Atlanta also has the budget space and allocation money to make this deal while avoiding uncertainty from the draft. Parkhurst now gets a chance to start for a couple more years at the latter stages of his career.
The move, though always likely, leaves Crew SC thin on the backline. Naess will return after a solid first half season in MLS, but there are questions in central defense. Gaston Sauro has been very good but has lost significant time to injury in 2015 and 2016. It's unclear how his recovery is progressing given he missed more time after returning from his PCL injury. Stalwart squad player Tyson Wahl retired. The team is likely to try and sign homegrown player Alex Crognale this offseason who just finished a strong career at Maryland. Likewise there were reports that the team was interested in national team defender Omar Gonzalez, currently at Pachuca.
The Parkhurst move is another sign that Berhalter has a clear idea of what didn't work in 2016 and is taking direct aim at correcting it, but that also means the squad needs to be strengthened. Without Clark and Parkhurst, the team is now without two players that have combined to play 200 games over the last three years. After having two players who were among the first names on the lineup sheet, Columbus will now have two new starters in 2017.