COLUMBUS – Ohio might seem an awfully landlocked state for Frankie Hejduk to call home, but the lack of surf doesn’t matter so much when that’s what feels like home.
After wrestling with decision to end a career that spanned 12 seasons and included 85 caps for the US national team and two World Cups (1998, 2002), Hejduk official called it quits Thursday, beginning the next phase of his life by being introduced as Columbus’ first-ever Brand Ambassador.
“It was time,” Hejduk said. “It was hard. Nobody wants to retire and no player wants to hang up his boots and I was one of them.”
Hejduk mentioned the decision was made easier because he would have had to undergo microfracture surgery on his ankle and surgery to repair a broken wrist in order to continue playing.
“My next year would have been [recovering from] surgery,” he said. “It was a no-brainer, but I didn’t want to announce it, to be honest.”
He won his second MLS Cup last season, his first with the Los Angeles Galaxy, but he was not re-signed by the club. Columbus fans, however, will always remember him for captaining the Crew to their first title in 2008. Hejduk accumulated 147 appearances for the Black and Gold.
Duncan Oughton, the popular former Crew player turned front office member who was also a member of that championship-winning side, marveled that his one-time roommate is following the same path, especially considering Hejduk’s connections to California.
“It’s pretty cool a San Diego surfer would want to make Columbus, Ohio, home,” Oughton told MLSsoccer.com.
Hejduk scored the final goal of the 3-1 victory against New York at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., by running onto a superb lead pass by Guillermo Barros Schelotto and heading the ball past Red Bulls goalkeeper Danny Cepero.
“I’ll never forget the moments of lifting the Cup [for the Crew] in LA and just the passion and the love that was felt not only for the team and for the players and for the organization but for the whole community of Columbus,” Hejduk said.
He said Crew fans later toilet-papered his home in team colors.
It was that kind of relationship with the fans that made Hejduk, who played for the Crew from 2003-10, a natural fit to return to Columbus, Crew president Mark McCullers said.
“When you think about the Crew, when you think about pride, when you think about passion, you think about Frankie Hejduk,” he said.
Hejduk will work with the community relations and marketing departments for community outreach, be involved in the radio and television broadcasts and digital media platforms and work with the youth soccer programs. Also, a line of camps and clinics bearing his name are in the plans for development.
“It’s really cool having him come back,” Crew midfielder and former teammate Eddie Gaven said. “He’s an absolute legend with the club. He’s one of the best right backs this nation has ever produced.”
Hejduk, a La Mesa, Calif., native, is the only U.S. player to participate in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics and the 1998 and 2002 World Cups. He was named to the 2006 World Cup team but suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss the tournament.
Hejduk is an original member of MLS, having played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny from 1996-98 before playing in Germany and Switzerland. The six-time MLS All-Star (five with the Crew) was signed by the Crew on March 7, 2003.
It was in Columbus that he met his future wife, Elissa. They were married on New Year’s Eve 2006 and they will reside in Ohio’s capital city with sons Nesta, 14, and Coasten, 4, and daughter, Callie, 1.
WATCH: Hejduk ices 2008 MLS Cup win