Young-Pyo Lee is coming back for one more kick at the can.
The Vancouver Whitecaps on Thursday confirmed that media reports out of South Korea earlier in the week were accurate, and their 2012 club Player of the Year is returning for next season.
At 35 years of age and the club’s oldest field player, the right fullback defied conventional wisdom by logging 2,970 minutes of playing time in 2012 – more than any of his younger teammates.
“We’re thrilled to have him back for another year,” Greg Anderson, the Whitecaps director of professional teams, told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “He’s obviously a world-class player with great experience. He’s a great pro, a great role model for our young players, and obviously a fan favorite – so we couldn’t be happier.”
Last week, the Whitecaps exercised their option on Lee, but at that point club president Bob Lenarduzzi said that was merely procedural and that Lee hadn’t decided on whether he would be hanging up his boots.
“When we sat with him at the end of the year, we talked about how the season had gone, and talked to him about how much we wanted him back,” Anderson said. “It was about him taking the time to decide about his future. He’s a family man, and he’s really focused on having a career after football. It was up to him to take the time to decide what was best for himself and his family, and we supported him through that.”
While Anderson didn't get into details about some of the conditions of Lee’s return, some hints of the player’s role in 2013 can be garnered from translated quotes from an interview with a leading South Korean news agency on Wednesday.
Lee has indicated he would like to get into the business side of sport, and has looked into taking courses at the University of British Columbia upon wrapping up his playing career. That could be bolstered by a sort of mentorship within the business side of the Whitecaps as well.
“I had a great offer from the club,” Lee told South Korean outlet Yonhap News. “[Lenarduzzi] called and offered that he could give an opportunity to learn in various departments of the club. This is a great offer since the reason to retire was to learn about the management side of the club.”
Lee went on to say that after logging so many minutes in 2012, he’s looking for a reduced playing role – especially on the road – in what looks to be his final season.
“The coach would help me avoid some of the long-distance away games in the east,” Lee said. “If I can rest during these away games, I can definitely manage my fitness at a great level.”