From Columbus to Atlanta: How a trade works for the player involved
After three seasons with Columbus Crew SC, Michael Parkhurst is preparing for the 2017 MLS season as a member of the newly established Atlanta United franchise. In this guest blog, he writes about the process of changing teams during the offseason.
It's usually not a good sign when you are in the last year of your contract and, by summer, there is no extension in place. It works out for some -- Benny Feilhaber agreed to stay in Kansas City after his previous deal expired, for example -- but, more often than not, it's a sign of upcoming change.
I held out hope of remaining with Crew SC through end-of-the-season meetings, but came away from those knowing my fate was sealed.
From a player's perspective, there are different ways for a trade to occur. Best case is that you ask for a move and land somewhere that suits you and your family. Worst case? The trade comes as a complete shock and you must uproot, leaving a place you love for the unknown, both on and off the field.
Atlanta United is my fourth team in 12 years as a professional, but this was the first time I have been traded from a team I was actually playing for (I'll explain shortly!). With my previous moves -- from New England to Nordsjaelland in Denmark and from Nordsjaelland to Augsburg in Germany -- I was in control of where I went and could also have stayed where I was.
Similarly, in 2014, when I came back to the United States, I could have stayed in Germany but felt I needed playing time leading up to the World Cup. Things are a bit different in MLS when it comes to player movement and, for the first time, I was not in total control of my destination. New England held my rights, but I was looking to play somewhere else. Hence the need for a trade.
Luckily I landed in a great place, and it worked out for three years in Columbus. In truth, I expected to retire there. That didn't happen, though, which led to a situation that I needed to handle in order to land in a place that best suited my career and family. It's tough and can be extremely stressful, especially ahead of the holidays.
Although I had wanted to stay where I was and viewed getting traded as a negative, many positive factors were in play for me. First, it was the offseason, so any trade would not require immediate upheaval.
Second, Crew SC assured me they would not be difficult to deal with in terms of what they wanted in return, making it easier for me to move to my preferred destination. This was important because, if the demands of the existing club are too high, they limit the teams that might be interested, as well as the salary the new team can pay.
The third positive aspect for me was that the first club I spoke with was Atlanta United. We had heard there was interest from a couple of other clubs, but it was a tough time of year, with teams still making decisions about their out-of-contract and optioned players. With nobody else ready to make a move, my focus was solely on Atlanta.
Sometimes, before a move is finalized, the coach or front-office staff from the new team will speak with the player in question to ensure he wants to join the new club. This alone can help change the perspective of a trade because every player wants to be somewhere where he is wanted and valued.
It can be a nice start to have open and honest conversations, which is how I felt when speaking with Carlos Bocanegra, Atlanta's technical director. It gave me a sense of having a say in my situation, while his honesty and enthusiasm about the challenges and excitement ahead were refreshing and genuine. It was also made easier by the fact I had played with Carlos a few times for the U.S. national team, and so I knew he's a good guy.
I was sold, though the truth is that he did not have to do much selling. Atlanta's investments, both on the field through player acquisitions and off it via their new training facilities and stadium, were enough to show this was a club I wanted to be part of. The wheels were set in motion from that point of view but, before they got going too fast, there was more to take into consideration.
Families have a big role in this process as well. Sure, my wife signed up for it when she decided -- for some crazy reason! -- to marry a professional soccer player. But that doesn't mean it's easy when you have to sell a house you only recently bought, or move kids out of school mid-year or leave friends and family behind to move across the country.
It can be tough. We loved living in Columbus for the past three years. We loved our house, the schools and had made great friends both inside and outside the soccer world. But that's part of the professional reality sometimes and, fortunately, I've got a loving family willing to change and adapt to allow me to play the game I love.
The final part of the process is getting acclimated into the new club and relocating. I visited Atlanta in mid-December to meet the coaching and support staffs and do some PR work on the media side. These visits make the actual move a little easier because you start to develop relationships and put faces with names.
It's all about getting the player adjusted and situated as quickly as possible, so the focus can then turn solely toward soccer. Given we have joined an expansion team, my new teammates and I are all currently going through this, and the club has been great in helping us. They have different realtors available depending on the type of housing needed, and relocating companies have also been on hand to help ship cars and furniture.
Fortunately, the players were also able to come to Atlanta a week before preseason started to get in the settling-in process. With most of us staying in the same hotel, it was pretty often that you ran into someone new on the team. We were meeting each other in elevators, lobbies and restaurants.
In fact, with everyone being new to each other, as well as signings and draftees being added daily, it was tough to know who was a teammate and who was a regular hotel guest. Any younger, athletic male was deemed a possible colleague, which led to a couple of awkward interactions!
But that's life when you are traded and especially to an expansion club. I never envisioned myself in this situation but am excited about the future as I embark on new beginnings with a brand new team.
Follow Michael Parkhurst on Twitter @MFparkhurst.