Michael Parkhurst, Atlanta United’s first and only club captain, announced his retirement yesterday, and this morning, Doug Roberson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweeted a thought provoking statement:
Curious if #atlutd will retire parkhurst’s number— Doug Roberson (@DougRobersonAJC) September 24, 2019
My initial reaction was to scoff at the notion. And even after doing some cursory research, I still hold the opinion that player numbers should not be retired (especially in the context of the club having already retired one single number that is reserved for the fans).
However, it’s not unheard of in soccer, especially in certain countries like Italy, where it seems to be more common. So let’s talk about how we feel about this. I want to focus on the idea of the club retiring numbers in general — less about whether Parkhurst’s No. 3. Because let’s be honest, we’re all thinking of what should be done with No. 7.
For me: I love the idea of honoring players who are instrumental to the history and success of the club. You can do this in many ways outside retiring numbers — you can build statues, rings of honor, etc. But for me, numbers in soccer hold a lot of significance — particularly Nos. 1-11 which signify a certain status in the team. But maybe moreso, I think the shirt numbers themselves can hold their own unique histories. Just look at another No. 7 shirt — the one of Manchester United. It holds a certain reverence and mystique. At one point, it was worn with distinction by some of the game’s greats, like George Best, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. And since Ronaldo wore it, it’s been cursed, worn by Angel Di Maria, Memphis Depay, Alexis Sanchez, and Antonio Valencia who vacated the number after performing poorly wearing it. Does the number actually matter? No. Probably not. But I think it’s more interesting for the numbers to stay available for future players as it enriches the club’s story.
Retire a number if you want. Don't do it if you don't. Death retires us all anyway.— 5 STRIPE FINAL (@FiveStripeFinal) September 24, 2019
Secondly, the weirdest part of Mel Gibson’s The Patriot is the part where he marries his dead wife’s sister and everyone just seems ok with it. Great movie up until that point. And probably after. But like why would anyone just kind of be chill about that?
However, like the children in The Patriot watching their dad marry their dead mom’s sister, I’m ambivalent about this. Do it. Don’t. I dunno seems kind of cool. Maybe not for Parky who is great and all but.......Hey, speaking of “hey, you’re great and all but” that’s probably what the Aunt in The Patriot should have said when her DEAD SISTER’S HUSBAND asked to marry her. Maybe do it for Josef if he hangs around. He’ll have earned it more than anyone probably ever will at that point. He’s claimed more goals than The Patriot has claimed bodies.
Do you remember that part where the British general Cornwallis gets his dogs back and then they run out to rejoin The Patriot. Great scene. I have forgotten what we were talking about.
I don't care. The legend of Parky lives in my memories, my heart, and my soul. Whether there is a large No. 3 banner raised to the rafters after a goofy halftime ceremony doesn't change that either way.
Clearly, honoring the player who led the team in its first two seasons and to its first championship is something that needs to be done. The question, then, is how? Number retirements are cute and all, but not that common in soccer. There are other ways. In England, he would be up for a knighthood. That’s out due to that pesky thing known as the US Constitution. Keys to the city? Maybe. Useful if Parky has any sheep he needs to drive through downtown Atlanta. A Michael Parkhurst Day proclaimed? Sounds good. Naming a street after him? Possibly, except his name is Parkhurst, not Peachtree. Name one of the stands in MBS after him? Good idea, I’d say, especially if it confuses the heck out of Falcons fans. Build a statue? Hell no, that’s already reserved for someone else. Just a bust then? Perhaps, but on no account hire Emanuel Santos to sculpt it.
My thoughts on the way to fix the numbering system in soccer are well known. Obviously, retiring the no. 3 jersey would help move in that direction so in that sense I’m for it. But, is Parkhurst the kind of player who should have his number retired? It’s difficult to say and Atlanta United’s short history probably puts some doubt on hanging the no. 3 from the rafters. There’s no doubt that he’s had a great career, but it’s been strung across several leagues and continents. However, Parkhurst has been on a few amazing MLS teams from his days in New England, Atlanta, and even Columbus. He’s a rare American centerback who can play with the ball at his feet and his positioning and awareness of what’s happening on the field no doubt added to his effectiveness as he lost a step or two over the years. So, to answer the question at hand: should his number be retired? I think the answer is no, but whoever wears the no. 3 kit again for the Five Stripes had better be able to bear the weight of what Parkhurst brought to Atlanta United. That said, if MLS ever builds a Hall of Fame, which will end up in some place like Boise for some reason, Parky deserves to be in it.
WHAT SAY YOU?