McArdle, who wore a head bandage from early on after an aerial clash with Danny Graham, was a colossal presence at the back for the Bantams, constantly winning headers and making blocks from the likes of Steven Fletcher, Graham and second half substitute Connor Wickham.
Helping by McArdle's hard-working display, City kept a clean sheet against their Premiership opponents on their way to a 2-0 win and a place in the quarter finals.
Parkinson said: "I thought Rory was exceptional.
"Defenders are judged by the blocks, headers and tackles they make and I lost count of how many times he did that against Sunderland.
"Perhaps that sort of defending is leaving the modern game but I thought Rory was on a different level on Sunday.
"The challenge he made on the halfway (which led to McArdle's cut) was strong and fair. It sent out a message and typified what we were all about that day.
"We always ask our defenders to make an early statement against their opponents and Rory and Andrew Davies were very dominant and did what they had to do."
At the other end of the pitch, Jon Stead, despite suffering a nasty cut on his foot in the first half, drew praise from Parkinson as well after putting in another goal-scoring performance.
Parkinson said: "If you look at the calibre of the Sunderland attackers on the pitch, there was a lot of talent and a lot of money out there.
"For everybody to be speaking about Jon Stead afterwards though is great credit to him."