CARSON, Calif. – It was late last November when Frankie Hejduk learned the Columbus Crew were not going to pick up his contract option, and the 36-year-old mainstay and long-time team captain admittedly was thinking the worst.
But his demeanor changed dramatically less than a month later when his rights were acquired by the LA Galaxy in a trade with Sporting Kansas City, who had selected him in the first round of Stage 2 of the MLS Re-Entry Process. Hejduk soon signed a one-year contract with the Galaxy and still is coming to grips with his good fortune.
“I have a big smile on my face,” he said Wednesday with the Galaxy in the first week of preseason training. “The sun is shining and the weather is sweet.”
Hejduk, who was born in La Mesa and played collegiately at UCLA, is reunited with Head Coach and General Manager Bruce Arena, who coached him at the 1996 Olympics and 2002 World Cup. Hejduk began his professional career in 1996 as a seventh round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Mutiny and served the last five seasons as captain of the Crew, including Columbus’ MLS championship season of 2008. He has 12 goals and 197 career MLS games and has made 85 appearances with the U.S. national team, for whom he has scored seven goals.
“Frankie’s a good player,” Arena said. “At his age, he’s if not our fittest player he’s one of our top two or three."
“He gives us a lot of experience. He can play anywhere in the back, as well as wide midfield. With the addition of Frankie he certainly helps us.”
Hejduk, who turns 37 in August and has long been regarded as a fitness fanatic, said he hopes to keep playing “as long as I can.”
“As long as I’m competitive and I feel like my legs are still under me and I don’t feel I’m hurting the team I’m going to play as long as I can,” he said. “I love the sport, I’ve been doing it for a number of years now. I still feel competitive, I still feel healthy, I’m still fit, still running and I’m looking forward to challenging the guys.
“It’s going to be a fun year.”
Hejduk, who politely declined to talk about the reasons for his surprising release from the Crew –“We’ll keep that between me and the club,” he said – understandably is deeply thankful to get a new start at The Home Depot Center.
“For me, it’s an ideal situation,” he said. “To come back and end my career where it started, getting back to the roots and everything is really cool. My friends and family getting to see me play is awesome.
“What I’m looking forward to with this team obviously is nothing less than a championship. I didn’t come here to not win a championship.
This club has some big-time tradition and I want to be a part of that.”
Hejduk said he is ready to help out wherever he’s asked.
“Wherever I’m needed, that’s where I’m going to be,” he said.
“Whether that’s a reserve role or coming off the bench or helping out wherever I can. I’m here for the team. Wherever Bruce wants to put me I’m all for it. The main thing is to be a veteran, help all the young guys out and be positive. Be a good locker room guy and push these guys and try to win a championship.
“I love Columbus and all. I loved my time there … it was incredible, to be honest. The next stage is here. Things happen, that’s MLS. Now I’m concentrating on the club that wants me here and to be a part of a championship team.”
The Galaxy will open the 2011 MLS season on Tuesday, March 15 when they head to Seattle to take on the Seattle Sounders FC at Qwest Field in MLS First Kick 2011, presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods. That game, which will kick off at 6:30 p.m., will be shown live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes, as well as online at ESPN3.com. The Galaxy will then host the New England Revolution in their home opener at 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 20 at The Home Depot Center. Tickets are available for that match through the Galaxy Kickoff Pack, which includes four tickets and two Galaxy blankets, starting at $96. BUY NOW