In some ways, Crew SC defender Michael Parkhurst was tasked with a tall order upon arriving in Columbus for his first campaign at the beginning of the year.
A veteran presence on a young team that was in the process of revolutionizing its identity, Parkhurst was called upon to be that rock, the leader of the core that could guide the rest of the squad onto a successful season.
Flash forward eight months, and although the season didn't end the way the Captain would have wanted it to, when looking back on the year that was, Parkhurst can't help but be proud of the work that his team accomplished.
"We grew a lot. A lot of different guys really stepped up throughout the year and took their game to a new level," said the defender. "That's always encouraging to see. It's a testament to them, their hard work and also the coaching staff putting them in a position to be able to do that. I think that as far as the new system and style of play, it took a lot of adjustment for a lot of guys. Guys were asked to do things that they weren't previously doing. When you're stepping out of your comfort zone like that, it takes a little while.
"Although we came out of the gates really well, we kind of regressed a little bit. It takes time in the overall process. We're not even where we want to be yet. This first season was definitely a step in the right direction."
Parkhurst singled out the development of a player like Ethan Finlay, an individual who the defender admitted wasn't sure if he would make the team in preseason. To see Finlay take his game to the next level, earn a new contract and become part of the team's identifiable core is something that proved rewarding for Parkhurst.
"You know guys put in a lot of hard work to be successful and you root for guys like Ethan who day in and day out work so hard, for them to go out there and show what they have," said the Captain. "You're really proud of them, you're really happy for them and you hope that they continue to score goals and be successful. Not every guy gets that opportunity. For whatever reason, whether it's through hard work or the way that the team plays that allowed Ethan to have success this year, or the combination of the team, he's somebody that you root for."
Speaking of the team's core, that's a place where Parkhurst feels Crew SC is extremely strong entering next season and beyond. Relatively young and now bolstered with some Playoff experience following a highly successful year, the club looks well-positioned for 2015 and beyond.
"I think any successful team, no matter the sport, has a good core of guys who have been either in the League or the team, specifically the team, for a number of years. That's when you have a really good locker room," said Parkhurst. "That's when you're able to hold guys accountable. That's when things don’t go well, like in the middle of the season, you have a core group of guys that you can lean on to say, 'Hey, we need to do some things, we need to get out of this rut.' We're building that core. I think a lot of guys stepped up and put themselves into the core or close to it. That's really important for the coming years."