"What are you going to do when you hang up your cleats?"
It's a question that is asked increasingly more often as a soccer player ages. I assume some embrace the transition while others dread it. Many of our former MLS greats have gone on to have successful careers in soccer administration, coaching, media, and other career fields ever further from the soccer... field.
There are players on this recent 2015 FC Dallas roster that the fans adore, but it becomes difficult to justify keeping everyone just because you "like him" as the roster philosophy evolves over time. I want to focus on three of those players. Now mind you, not one of these players has mentioned retiring. They are all still playing soccer, and at least one still has a roster spot with FCD for 2016. I want to discuss the (probably distant) futures of Blas Perez, Stephen Keel, and Chris Seitz - these three in particular because in some way, the fans and/or front office have taken a liking to each during their time here in North Texas.
FCD Status: Contract expired. He is rumored to be joining Saprissa or possibly going to a team in Panama or Colombia.
Blas seems like a natural fit for coaching. While his gamesmanship sometimes rubbed people the wrong way, we almost never saw Blas dragging on the field. The guy works at 100% from whistle to whistle and provided a valued veteran presence in the locker-room. While Blas' time with FCD may be over, he still has some tread on the proverbial tires at 34 years old.
Blas' time with FCD was his longest tenure at any one team. Prior to joining MLS in 2012, he played for 14 different teams since beginning his professional career in 1998. Compare that to 4 seasons with FC Dallas. He made connections here; his kids were able to put down some roots. I imagine that Blas does a victory lap in Central America then comes back to FC Dallas to coach either with the first team as part of Oscar's staff or with the developmental academy. Maybe he would rather be close to family or has other opportunities in Panama, but if he goes anywhere outside of that, I assume/hope it has to be North Texas.
FCD Status: Contract expired. He is one of 26 players now eligible to be an MLS Free Agent.
Even though his playing time was cut short by injury, Stephen is well liked on and off the field. He will be remembered by FC Dallas fans for years to come, if for nothing else, but providing us with this beautiful gif: "3 Points in the Pocket"
Similar to Blas, while Stephen is no longer playing for Dallas, he has made no mention of retiring. Although, of the two, Stephen may be closer to opting for that choice if his injury precludes him from negotiating a new MLS contract. Only time will tell.
Whether it is this year or next or somewhere further in the future, I've seen speculation in FCD circles that Keel could be a good fit as a team ambassador, ala Frankie Hejduk in Columbus. I don't know how widespread an idea that is, but it raises a few questions:
- Would FCD ever hire an ex-player to be a marketing ambassador?
- Would Stephen Keel be a good fit for that position for FC Dallas?
It is nearly impossible to answer the first question. As an organization, the Hunt Sports Group keeps their cards very close to the chest. They don't communicate much, even about issues that necessitate it. They also don't strike anyone as the most progressive, innovative sports ownership group. HSG continuously demonstrates a pragmatic, fiscally responsible approach to sports. Would they hire any ex-player to be an ambassador? It will weigh heavily on their calculated marketing return against the salary and perks they would have to pay to said player. What do you think the chances are for this opportunity? I would leave it as a toss-up for the future - 50/50 chances really.
Assuming FCD does create that position someday, does Stephen Keel fit? Though his time with the club was relatively short, I believe he has the personality and on-camera persona necessary to bring energy to the club. I can't compare it to Frankie Hejduk though. Frankie spent 8 of his 12 years in MLS at Columbus. Frankie amassed 13,730 minutes across 157 regular season and playoff matches for Columbus. He has an instant connection with the team, the city, and the fans. Stephen, on the other hand, played 1,804 minutes in 24 matches out of 3 seasons with FCD. It's not impossible, but the onus would definitely be on Stephen to forge those fan connections quickly and strongly, if he ever was hired as a team ambassador. I think this is a situation where Keel could be hired in 2016 if he chose to retire as a player; however as time goes by away from FCD, the likelihood of him filling this role diminishes quickly.
What do you think about FCD having an ex-player as club ambassador, and separately, do you think Keel fits? If not him, then who?
FCD Status: Contracted to FC Dallas for 2016.
I include Chris in this discussion as a sort of compare and contrast benchmark. HSG and the front office like Chris. In addition to being a solid goalkeeper, he's a fine human being, having been named the 2012 MLS Humanitarian of the Year for volunteering to donate bone marrow in the middle of the season to a stranger suffering from leukemia. Chris was swabbed and added to a bone marrow registry that searches for donor matches back in 2009 in Salt Lake City when teammate Andy Williams' wife was battling the disease.
This was a procedure that could have ended his playing career permanently, in addition to the obvious fact that he missed a considerable portion of the 2012 season to undergo surgery for someone else. FCD has held on tight to the California-native ever since.
All that to say: when it comes to FCD hiring ex-players to the front office/academy, I think Chris is near the top of the list of candidates. What kind of role could he fill though? I don't see him as a team ambassador. I think he would fall more on the technical side of things, maybe going into coaching? This isn't a question I would ask Chris directly, since he still has many years of goalkeeping in front of him at only 28 years old.
Overall, I think it is interesting to compare variables when it comes to FC Dallas hiring alumni players. We have one player with an obvious connection to ownership and the front office but no need in the near future for that type of position, another player whose time with FCD is up but no desire to quit playing just yet, and another player who may be close to retiring, depending on injury status, with an ability to provide off field marketing energy with fans and media.