[MLS SPOTLIGHT]For Frankie Hejduk, who grew up surfing near his home in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Calif., and was once identified as soccer's answer to Jeff Spicoli, the Sean Penn surfer dude in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” retiring to settle down in Columbus, Ohio, as the Crew's first "brand ambassador" might seem strange, but Hejduk has never been conventional.
Hejduk played his first three seasons with the Tampa Bay Mutiny and finished up with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2011. But the rest of his pro career was spent far from the ocean. Sandwiched between them were four seasons in Europe (three with Bayer Leverkusen and one with St. Gallen in Switzerland) and eight with the Crew.
He earned his move to Europe from the Mutiny after his play at the 1998 World Cup, where he was one of the few positives for the USA.
Four years later, he showed his versatility, playing out of position at left back for the USA, which reached the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup.
He was picked for the 2006 team but was injured and could not play. He nonetheless traveled to Germany, where he decked himself out like any other U.S. supporter in an American flag.
While he played in Germany, the local press picked up on the fun-loving Hejduk who was featured riding a surfboard on a wave crashing over the edge of the Leverkusen stadium.
When he moved to Columbus, Hejduk and the Crew fans hit it off. While serving a suspension in 2008, he took the opportunity at a home game to spend time with some Columbus tail-gaters and even downed a beer to the chorus of "chug, chug, chug" (see video below). He said it was one of the best times he ever had at a soccer game.
"They made me feel like a king," Hejduk said.
Hejduk won one MLS Cup (2008) and three Supporters’ Shields (2004, 2008, 2009) in Columbus, where he was reunited with his college coach at UCLA, Sigi Schmid.
Schmid said Hejduk showed the same energy as a teenager playing in San Diego as he did when he came back from the knee injury that kept him out of a third World Cup.
But at 37, time caught up with Hejduk, who would have needed surgery to repair his ankle and a broken wrist.
Hejduk's retirement and that of Chivas USA keeper Zach Thornton leaves Ramiro Corrales as the only active player from MLS's launch season in 1996.
Hejduk pledges his allegiance to Columbus at a 2008 tailgate party: