Former Atlanta United captain Larentowicz retires

**** VISUAL LEDE **** August 14, 2019 Atlanta: Atlanta United captain Jeff Larentowicz hoists the trophy for the team to celebrate a 3-2 victory over Club America to win the Campeones Cup on Wednesday, August 14, 2019, in Atlanta.   Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
**** VISUAL LEDE **** August 14, 2019 Atlanta: Atlanta United captain Jeff Larentowicz hoists the trophy for the team to celebrate a 3-2 victory over Club America to win the Campeones Cup on Wednesday, August 14, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Former Atlanta United captain Jeff Larentowicz announced his retirement from professional soccer on Monday. The announcement was posted on twitter by a third party as a big thank you to everyone who has helped him during his career. In a digital age, Larentowicz still doesn’t do social media and didn’t know until told that he was being congratulated by many former teammates.

Larentowicz said on Monday that he had been thinking about retiring since Atlanta United declined to re-sign him following the 2020 season. Though admitting he is a “die-hard”, he said he wasn’t necessarily waiting on another chance to play.

Then, he came to a conclusion.

“It’s time to take the next steps,” he said.

Larentowicz, 37, spent his entire career in MLS, starting with New England, followed by Colorado, Los Angeles Galaxy, Chicago and then the Five Stripes. He finished with two MLS Cups (Atlanta United 2018 and Rapids in 2010), two U.S. Open Cups (Atlanta United in 2019 and New England in 2007) and a Campeones Cup as part of 437 appearances, including 397 starts.

Among field players, only Kyle Beckerman finished with more appearances (497), and Beckerman (461) and Chadd Marshall (404) in starts. Larentowicz logged 39,206 minutes of playing times in league and playoff games. Larentowicz said he has no negative feelings about not surpassing Beckerman, describing him as “uncatchable.”

Larentowicz said reaching 300 appearances was always his goal. He was inspired to do that by watching the celebrations for former teammates Steve Ralston in New England, and Pablo Mastroeni in Colorado when they hit that milestone.

“I know that if you are on the field for that many games you are doing something right,” he said. “Then I got it.”

And then came something that has driven Larentowicz for a long time.

After that game, a Chicago journalist asked him what was next.

“400,” he said.

The journalist laughed.

“I said, OK, that’s all I need.”

Larentowicz spent his final four seasons with the Five Stripes. He reached 400.

Turning to favorites, he said the goal against Club America in the Campeones Cup, a rocket from outside the box, isn’t among his favorites. He was happy for the team, the city and just glad to finally defeat a club from Mexico. He said he had been losing to them since he he was 12 years old and his club competed in the Dallas Cup and was whipped by a team from Monterrey, Mexico.

His two favorite goals were scored while with New England. His favorite came when he “pummeled” a free kick against Real Salt Lake. He did it while wearing squash goggles because they were recommended by a non-sports ophthalmologist he went to see to treat an eye injury. The second came on a free kick for New England against Chicago from outside the penalty box.

Among his favorite teammates were the ones he roomed with during his career because they would commiserate after losses and celebrate after wins: Matt Reis in New England, Jamie Smith in Colorado and Chris McCann in Atlanta. The seven seasons he played with Michael Parkhurst in New England and Atlanta put him on the list, too.

As nice as the numbers are, Larentowicz was more about competing and winning.

There’s a scene in the movie Moneyball in which Oakland General Manager Billy Beane tells outfielder David Justice that they both want to squeeze the last bit of baseball out of a career.

That was Larentowicz every year. Constantly fighting to prove to each manager that he should be included in the lineup.

It happened at Atlanta United under Gerardo Martino, who quickly realized that Larentowicz was the perfectly disciplined anchor for his formation. In his retirement note, Larentowicz thanked Martino for “stoking the flames in the dying embers of my time in the league.”

Larentowicz said he was already on the precipice of retiring when Atlanta United signed him. He guessed they thought they would have him for a season.

Then the club signed Carlos Carmona.

Carmona started the opener against Red Bulls. Larentowicz wishes he had.

“That stokes that fire,” he said.

Then the club goes to Minnesota for the snow game and Larentowicz is in the lineup because Carmona was given a red card late against Red Bulls.

The team returned home and Larentowicz was once again not in the lineup.

“I had to keep convincing him,” he said.

Larentowicz started 30 of 34 games that season.

“Tata is a person, once you convince him, but once you do it all the time he expects you to do it all the time and he gives you opportunity,” Larentowicz said.

Atlanta United kept signing players for Larentowicz’s position: First Carmona, then Darlington Nagbe, then Eric Remedi and then Mo Adams. Larentowicz is friends with them all. And he kept winning a starting spot.

“It’s kind of like, you recognize who are you and who they are,” he said. “I always knew I gave something different.”

Larentowicz finished with 121 appearances for the club in league or playoff games, including 98 starts with four goals. He related it to the episode of the TV series “Seinfeld” in which George Costanza keeps leaving items at a girlfriend’s apartment to force her to keep seeing him. Larentowicz kept putting himself out there every game to force managers to keep using him.

“I was never that guy that coach wanted in the first five minutes,” he said. “I realized that early on. I didn’t get deterred. When they brought in someone else, I didn’t get deterred. I know what I can give. I know it might take a little bit of time.”

Off the field, Larentowicz was a part of several Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations, fighting for his fellow players to get more from the owners. It started first with Larentowicz wondering why if a team didn’t want to re-sign him could he not go where he wanted and why did that team receive compensation when he was the one not getting paid.

So he started handing around the players reps for the Major League Soccer Players Association.

“I think that I always felt like someone needs to do it and someone needs to do it well,” he said. “I’m happy to be that guy.”

Eventually, he was sitting across from owners such as Clark Hunt, Jonathan Kraft and Commissioner Don Garber.

“Sitting there and having a voice and having an effect was fun,” he said. “Other stuff was real work.”

Larentowicz isn’t sure what’s next. He has been talking to retired players and people in different industries to see what may work for he and his family. He said coaching is a possibility but it’s a hard life. He loves living in Atlanta and may stay here if it is what’s best for his family.

He still has a suit bought in 2004 to wear for job interviews in his closet in case soccer didn’t work out. He said it looks like something Talking Heads singer David Byrne would wear because it has big shoulders.

“It’ll probably stay in the closet,” he said.

Right now, for the first time in a long time he’s able to relax.

“Not a lot of people get to say when they are done,” he said. “Glad I was able to do that.”

He said he’s not sure if he can control how he’s remembered but this is what he hopes: “You walk onto the field, and teammates are like ‘Good, he’s out here.’ ”

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