Zuñiga moves from player to ambassador
In four games with Chivas USA, Martin Zuñiga did not have the opportunity to show what he did in 12 years in Mexico.
Still, Zuñiga leaves the game knowing that he went as far as he could.
"You have to turn the page in your life at some point and I think this is the time, and even more so that Chivas has given me the opportunity to work with such a great institution as this," said Zuñiga, who officially retired Monday and was promptly named a club ambassador.
"It's not easy because I came to this country to play. I only managed to play in four games and I intended to get healthy and play as much as possible but my ligament did not comply and I had to get it operated on."
Zuñiga, 35, joins the ranks of the club's Soccer Academy, which started mere months ago. As a soccer ambassador, Zuñiga will represent Chivas USA at soccer clinics and camps across the country. He will work closely with several former Chivas players and help develop youth players the Chivas way.
Chivas USA General Manager Whit Haskel said having someone the caliber of Zuñiga was a coup.
"He has decided to stay here with his family in (Southern California) and work with us on a day-to-day basis, to promote the club, to promote what we're doing, our soccer development in our community," Haskel said. "It's hugely beneficial for us because of his brand equity, if you will, in the marketplace and because of his legendary career with Chivas."
Although retirement came early for Zuñiga -- he said he wanted to play two more years -- the circumstances were right to move on to the next part of career.
"It's a bittersweet moment because I complete one part of my career but I am very happy that Chivas USA has given me the opportunity to continue being a part of soccer, just in another way," Zuñiga said. "There are few players who have had this possibility and when Chivas came to me, I didn't think twice about it. I have a strong commitment to the Chivas institution because this is the team with whom I excelled and with which I achieved great things. To remain with Chivas and here in Chivas USA is a great accomplishment."
In his brief stint with Chivas USA, his seventh professional club, Zuñiga played just four games after re-injuring the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a friendly against the U.S. national team in early March. When he was finally fit to play, rookie Brad Guzan had gotten past early-season shakiness. Nevertheless, Zuñiga briefly regained No. 1 status.
But in just four starts, Zuñiga allowed five goals twice and helped Chivas gain just one point from those matches. In July, he re-injured the knee and subsequently decided to hang up the boots. He had surgery last month.
"I have about two years battling through an injury that has not let me. I have worked probably the hardest in my career over the last couple of years to try and get healthy," Zuñiga said. "I am not quitting. I am not throwing in the towel, but the doctor told me that my injury can become chronic and damaging in the future.
"I am very happy, though. I did it all until my ligament let me and tore completely. I worked with pride every day to try and contribute to this institution. I do not have the opportunity to do it on the field which is how I would have liked it but now I have the opportunity to do so in another aspect and I am happy about that. It's a new challenge in my life and in my career."
Zuñiga, who was the 'keeper for Chivas de Guadalajara during their last championship season eight years ago, said the club is in a very good situation with the current crop of goalkeepers, namely Guzan.
"Brad Guzan is very young, but I am certain that he will be the best goalkeeper in the United States. I have no doubt about it," Zuñiga said. "He's a young man who works very hard and is very dedicated and now with the arrival of (Sergio) 'Matute' Garcia and the increased competition that comes with that, I am certain that we will have the best 'keeper in MLS."
Through it all, Zuñiga said he's felt at ease because of the treatment he has received from coaches, players and staff.
"For me, it's been less difficult, I won't say easy, but just less difficult with their support. Everyone has supported me, from the front office to my teammates," Zuñiga said. "I have to keep rehabilitating just one month removed from my surgery for my most important match: the rest of my life. I have one son and God willing I hope to have another and I want to spend time with them as well."
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.