Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
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For United defender Kevin Friedland, there wasn't one moment that pushed him to retire. Instead, after an eleven-year professional career, it was the accumulation of things that finally got to him. "It’s time," he said. "My body is telling me it’s time. I wake up every morning in pain, a little bit. It’s a little hard to get out of bed in the morning. When I became a player-assistant four years ago I knew it was going to affect my playing time, and I was okay with it - and I’m still okay with it. But as I’m getting older and I need more rest, for my body, I’m actually getting less rest because I’m doing more. And it’s affected my game, and affected me in terms of getting injured [more often].
"I was telling the guys, I don’t necessarily get to play. I train hard every day and I come outside and put the work in, but I don’t always get the reward of playing on the Saturday, and that’s what we play for. I’m comfortable knowing that - and I’m not saying that I should be playing over other guys. It’s just in terms of that’s what you play for, you play for Saturday."
The 32-year-old played one year in Kansas City, in 2003, and came to Minnesota for 2004 with no idea he was about to spend a decade on the field for the Thunder, Stars, and United. "Technically I retired after my first year," he said. "That lasted about three months - an offseason. And then I came back, and really had no idea. I think there were a couple of times I almost left… and always ended up staying.
"I liked it here. It always ended up being the right place for me. I think as we went through coaching changes and uncertainty of whether or not we were going to have a team, every year, that was pretty tough every offseason trying to figure that out. As a player, sometimes going somewhere is the right thing - and looking back now, I’m glad I didn’t, cause I think this was the right thing, for me to stay this long."
For Friedland, his time in Kansas City, and winning the NASL championship in 2011 with Minnesota, meant that he could call time on his career without regrets. "I’ve thought about that," he said. "I had an opportunity to play in MLS and experience it, spent one year in Kansas City, and saw what that was like. We’ve had some amazing times here, and I get to finish my career having won a championship, so that’s good. I always kind of thought for awhile there that I’d be one of those players that had a long career and didn’t get to win, so I’m glad to be a part of that. So no, no regrets."
Friedland spoke of just trying to hold on a little bit longer every year - and how it became more and more difficult as the years wore on. "Through the championship year I didn’t play a lot; I was actually injured awhile, and I played only a couple games that year," he said. "And then going back last year, I played a decent amount and did quite well. Coming into this year, I wanted to be a part of the club with all the changes, and be a part of that on the field is something I wanted to do. And capping off ten years here - it’s pretty cool to spend ten years in one place. Pretty rare."
The question that everybody is asking, of course, is what's next for him. In addition to his role as an assistant coach, Friedland has worked in the team's front office, in scouting players, and in general making the team run much more smoothly. He's one of the biggest reasons that Minnesota still has a pro soccer team; he helped keep the club running through two league-owned years, as a player, coach, and executive.
He knows everybody is asking, but he's not ready to say yet - because he hasn't decided. "I don't have an answer to that right now," he said. "I have some ideas and some options or opportunities that I'll take some time to figure out."
It's hard to imagine Friedland not being part of local soccer; after a decade, he's a fixture. That ten years in Minnesota is an exceptional thing, and it makes Friedland one of the great constants in our local soccer history. He told me that, when the team put together its all-time history a few years ago, they figured out that between he and former player and coach Amos Magee, they had played with every single player who's come through Minnesota, going all the way back to 1990. Said Friedland, "There’s been a lot of uncertainty through the years, a lot of changes, and very few constants - and I happen to be one of the constants through the years. And that’s cool."
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