Minnesota United have announced that defender Kevin Friedland, who also serves as an assistant coach for the team, will retire from playing at the conclusion of the 2013 season.
The announcement brings down the curtain on a Minnesota pro soccer career that stretches all the way back to 2004; to put that in perspective, Friedland has been a pro in Minnesota for just about half the time there has been professional soccer in Minnesota. He's seen four different names and two different stadiums, six different team owners and four head coaches and has worn countless different jerseys - many of which, in his role as team jersey maker, he made himself.
As with the jersey making, in the past few years, Friedland has taken on more than just a playing role with the club; he's served as an assistant coach, he's scouted players and brought in players to Minnesota, he's worked in the team's front office, and he's organized the team's fantasy camp. In general, he's done whatever it took to keep pro soccer going in Minnesota, and for that, United fans can't thank him enough.
Since becoming an assistant coach, the 32-year-old's appearances have been limited - two this year and seven last year, for example - and he has served mostly in a backup role. He made one start this year, during United's spring injury crisis, and came on at halftime as a substitute in another game.
He posted a heartfelt letter on the team website, in which he thanked players, coaches, and fans. "In 2004, I was offered a contract to play professional soccer for the Minnesota Thunder," it begins. "I was 22 years old, and had no idea what moving to Minnesota would mean for my playing career or my life. Here I am, retiring at 32 years old, and as I sit and reflect on the last ten years in my life, I can’t imagine it any other way than spending this time in Minnesota."'
As the team's press release points out, Friedland trails only Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams for tenure on the local pro sports scene, and is tied with Vikings long snapper Cullen Loeffler and Twins catcher Joe Mauer.
For now, all that's decided is Friedland's on-field future. But it's hard not to see his retirement as the end of an era in Minnesota pro soccer.