Columbus Crew captain Michael Parkhurst, who reached the Major League Soccer championship match three years in a row but never managed to hoist the trophy, has another chance for glory.
The 31-year-old defender leads the Crew into the Eastern Conference final for the first time since 2008 on Sunday when Columbus entertains the New York Red Bulls in the first leg of their series to decide an MLS Cup berth.
The aggregate winner after next week's second leg will face the Western Conference winner, either the Portland Timbers or FC Dallas, in the championship match on December 6.
Parkhurst made his MLS debut in 2005 with the New England Revolution and made three trips in a row to the title game only to fall short each time, 1-0 to the Los Angeles Galaxy in extra time in 2005, in a penalty shootout to Houston in 2006 and again to Houston, 2-1 after extra time in 2007.
"It's super disappointing, first off," Parkhurst said in a posting on the MLS website. "To be that close and to be denied on multiple occasions, it's frustrating. You think if you could just get another chance, to win it would be nice."
To earn that chance, the Crew must defeat the Red Bulls, who have never won the MLS crown.
New York boasts the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in Luis Robles, who had a league-best 18 wins, nine by shutout. The Red Bulls boasted the best goal difference in the league and allowed only 43 goals, fewest of any team in the East.
Parkhurst, who has 25 caps for the US squad but also carries an Irish passport, has a title hunger based on near misses that he has imparted to younger teammates, none of whom were with the Crew during its lone MLS title run in 2008, one that ended with a 3-1 win over the Red Bulls.
"If I finish my career without an MLS Cup, I'll be disappointed," Parkhurst said. "I want that feeling to know what it's like to win MLS Cup and be on the other side of the locker room –- not the one that's dejected, the one that's celebrating with champagne."
Parkhurst won the Danish league and Danish Cup with Nordsjaelland in a five-year stay that ended in 2012 and played briefly in Germany before returning to MLS with the Crew last year.
Kei Kamara led the Crew with 22 goals in 32 matches. The 31-year-old Sierra Leone striker had played for Middlesbrough and Norwich City in England.
The Red Bulls were paced by Bradley Wright-Phillips with 17 goals in 34 matches. The Englishman, formerly of Manchester City and Southampton, won the MLS Golden Boot last year with 27 goals.
Nigerian forward Fanendo Adi led the Timbers with 16 goals. The 25-year-old formerly played for Copenhagen, featuring in their 2013-14 Champions League run. Colombian striker Fabian Castillo had nine goals to lead a balanced Dallas.