Few players enjoy more career rebirths than Frankie Hejduk, who retired officially today from the game he played professionally for 16 years. Along the way the laid-back, longtime U.S. international played in two World Cups and missed one more, in 2006, due to injury.
Career rebirth No. 1: Some time in the late 1990s, he got serious about soccer, converting himself from California surfer dude getting it done on high VO2 max and athletic ability to a guy more dedicated to his craft. Without the metamorphosis, Hejduk may have been on a fast track to the ordinary.
Career rebirth No. 2: He fell out of favor at Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen and transferred to St. Gallen in Switzerland in 2002 – a move that signaled things definitely going in the wrong direction. So Hejduk booked it back to MLS, signing with Columbus in March of 2003. It spurred something more out of the tireless defender, who had an All-Star campaign and eventually spent eight seasons in Ohio.
Career rebirth No. 3: Injuries kept Hejduk out of the 2006 World Cup and limited his time for the Crew. He was 32 by summer of 2006 and could have begun downshifting. Instead, he got healthy and contributed mightily as Columbus built a strong side around Guillermo Barros Schelotto and claimed the 2008 MLS Cup.
Career rebirth No. 4: He was 34 when he directed a header into goal in that MLS championship victory under Sigi Schmid. Now would be the time to begin downshifting, right? Well, here’s what the U.S. Soccer site says about the big role Hejduk played in 2008 and 2009. As he help shore up a weak spot in the national team pool at fullback:
2009: Marked his 14th year with the U.S. Men’s National Team by making four appearances, all starts, and grabbing one goal and one assist … Lent his veteran wherewithal to three final round World Cup qualifiers in 2009, including the 2-0 win against Mexico on Feb. 11, the 2-2 draw with El Salvador on March 28, and the 3-0 demolition of Trinidad & Tobago on April 1 … Scored the equalizing goal in the 2-2 draw with El Salvador, his seventh career goal and second in World Cup qualifying … Also added an assist in the same game, setting up Jozy Altidore …
You could even say he had a fifth rebirth in 2011. Released from Columbus, Hejduk ended up providing veteran cover for the Galaxy. He played in just six matches but was there in the end when Los Angeles claimed its 2011 championship.