As the 2010 World Cup in South Africa approaches, one of U.S. Soccer’s all-time greats looks back on his career and looks forward to the summer event.
Columbus Crew’s Frankie Hejduk has had ups and downs while cementing himself as one of U.S. soccer’s most accomplished player.
“It came with hard work,” Hejduk said. “I’m a believer that you create your own luck.”
Hejduk’s resume speaks for itself: two World Cup appearances, two Olympic games, part of the German team Bayer Leverkusen that played in the 2002 UEFA Champions League final, five-time Major League Soccer all-star and 2008 MLS champion with the Columbus Crew.
Hejduk, born in La Mesa, Calif., a suburb of San Diego, grew up surfing and playing soccer. He was more passionate about surfing, and many of his friends did go pro in surfing. Despite that, he decided to attend UCLA on a scholarship to play soccer.
His first international cap came in 1996 in El Salvador during a World Cup qualifer. He scored a goal in his international debut.
“Scoring a goal was icing on the cake,” Hejduk said.
Hejduk made his World Cup debut in 1998, playing in the second game of the first round against Iran. That day is something he will remember for the rest of his life, he said.
“Absolutely incredible experience,” Hejduk remembers. “During the National Anthem, thinking of all the past coaches I played for, my family, what they have sacrificed, what I sacrificed, all of that comes together at one moment. I got the chills, teary-eyed. And this is all before the game even starts.”
The summer of 2002 is one that stands out to Hejduk and US soccer fans. That summer in Korea and Japan, the team made an unexpected run all the way to the quarterfinals. To get there, they defeated rival Mexico 2-0 in the round of 16.
“It was for bragging rights. Who was going to step up?” Hejduk said. “We knew we were going to win.”
USA fell to Germany 1-0 in the quarters, a match many felt the US should have won. “The German press told us ‘We got a lot of respect for you guys. We lucked out,'” Hejduk said of the aftermath.
“We were proud of ourselves. We gave everything we had,” Hejduk said.
After that great World Cup run, Hejduk looked forward to another one four years later. Unfortunately, two days after being named to the 2006 World Cup roster, Hejduk tore his ACL.
“Pretty much a buzz kill,” Hejduk said. “A lot of mental stuff you go through when you have those injuries. That’s why you have friends and family to help you get by it.”
Despite not being able to participate, U.S. Soccer paid for Hejduk and his family to go to Germany and be at the World Cup with the team.
“It was a great experience, I got to be a fan,” Hejduk said. “I was able to bring my son. He got to experience the World Cup with me. I got a different perspective and it was simply amazing.”
Hejduk has taken that experience and used it for motivation.
“It actually motivated me to try to make this next World Cup because after 2006 a lot of people wrote me off because I was 32 at the time with a torn ACL,” Hejduk said. “I made it a goal of mine to prove those people wrong.”
The motivation seemed to work, as Hejduk helped team USA qualify for this year’s World Cup and helped lead the Crew to the 2008 MLS Cup.
“Nothing better than picking up that trophy after the 9 years I gave to the MLS,” Hejduk said.
As for U.S. Soccer’s chances in South Africa, Hejduk believes they should make it out of the first round. After that, he feels anything can happen.
“I think on any given day the US can beat any team in the world,” Hejduk said. “I think teams are starting to have a lot more respect for the US.”