On January 14, 2005, there was no such thing as Atlanta United. The club was more than 12 years away from playing its first game. MLS had just 12 teams, nearly half of the 23 that took the field in 2018. It was a different time, a different era, than the one the league is in right now.
But, on that January day, three young players were among those waiting to hear their names called in the draft and, all these years later, they call themselves teammates in pursuit of a career-defining MLS Cup title.
Brad Guzan, Jeff Larentowicz and Michael Parkhurst counted themselves among the players eligible for selection in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft. Guzan had chosen to forego his last years at the University of South Carolina, signing a Generation Adidas deal that positioned him to be among the top players in the draft. Parkhurst was a fixture for Wake Forest before signing his own Generation Adidas deal. Larentowicz was less heralded, having starred for four years at Brown University.
Now, nearly 14 years later, they're no longer young rookies. They're Atlanta United's veteran stars that are one step away from a major trophy.
"It's been good. I think those two guys in particular are great for us," Guzan said of Parkhurst and Larentowicz. "You look at what Jeff has been able to do in this league for so long, so consistently, it's something special. You look at Parky who was in the league, went overseas, came back and it's like he never missed a beat. Those guys have played a huge part in us as a team."
Guzan was the second overall pick that year, selected by now-defunct Chivas USA after Real Salt Lake chose midfielder Nikolas Besagno. Guzan has gone on to follow in the footsteps of the other great American goalkeepers, fighting his way to Europe with Aston Villa before becoming a key piece of this Atlanta team.
Parkhurst, meanwhile, was chosen ninth by the New England Revolution, and, even though he was often overlooked by his own club, he claimed Rookie of the Year honors before moving to Denmark, Germany and, eventually, back to MLS. This is his fifth MLS Cup final and, after four consecutive losses, he'll look to captain Atlanta to glory.
"I went later than I thought I would. I thought maybe I’d go to LA," Parkhurst told Goal. "They had a few picks. A couple of defenders went before me and I thought, ‘Man’, and I just kept dropping.
"It was meant to be that I went to New England at number nine, and I’m glad I did. Center back has a standard physique and I don’t match that. I’m sure it scared off some teams, and I’m glad Stevie (Nicol) took a chance on me."
No one took a chance on Larentowicz until the very end. As the MLS Draft proper ended with 48 names called on that January day, Larentowicz had to wait until the Supplemental Draft on February 4.
Even then, he had to wait even longer, until the fourth round and 45th pick of that Supplemental Draft, making him the 93rd player chosen. Selected by the Revolution with just four picks remaining, Larentowicz was part of a fourth round that included future scoring king Chris Wondolowski and future league regulars Dan Kennedy and Dan Gargan.
"The supplemental draft happened over the internet," Larentowicz told Goal. "I listened for a few rounds, then I stopped listening. I saw it as you can’t take anything for granted, or I didn’t have a good combine, but it couldn’t have worked out any better."
It's worked out for Atlanta, too. Now savvy veterans, the trio are three of the six players from their draft class still contributing in MLS. All three are still vital cogs for Atlanta, with Guzan the unquestioned No. 1 goalkeeper, Parkhurst a Best XI-caliber defender and Larentowicz a key piece in Atlanta's defensive unit.
"Obviously, Josef (Martinez) and Miguel (Almiron), some other guys, get the talk about them," Guzan said, "but Parky and Jeff have been huge for us, especially with bringing the team together and doing the little things that don't go noticed as much."
Guzan and Parkhurst were noticed in 2005. Larentowicz not so much. But if they can bring an MLS Cup to Atlanta, the three veterans will have one more unifying bond on their resume.