AVE MARIA, FL. The Fire caught flight to the first phase of preseason training on Sunday with one notable absentee. Pavel Pardo, the legendary Mexican midfielder, announced his retirement before the flight took off for this small college town on the outskirts of Naples.
Pardos retirement was no surprise. At the age of 36, he had been considering it for some time and the Fires acquisition of Jeff Larentowicz in a trade with the Colorado Rapids last week made the decision more clear-cut.
Still, Pardos 19-year professional career was filled with brilliant moments and he was always a class act.
The second-most capped player in the history of Mexicos national team, Pardo was one of the greatest international stars of his era. He played in 148 matches for Mexico after being a mainstay for Atlas and Club America.
Fire coach Frank Klopas, admitting Pardo has been a "fantastic" player, felt the need to build for the future and the recent acquisitions of Larentowicz and New York midfielder Joel Lindpere meant that Pardos role would be inevitably diminished. He had partnered with captain Logan Pause for much of the last two seasons and was a key component in the Fires revival after missing the Major League Soccer playoffs in 2010 and 2011.
For the Fire and its fans having Pardo on the roster though for only 41 matches was an honor. He joined international stars of the past like Peter Nowak, Hristo Stoitchkov, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Brian McBride, Freddie Ljungberg and Arne Friedrich in wearing the Fire jersey and made great contributions to the team.
Fire owner Andrew Hauptman said it was "truly a great experience having Pavel Pardo represent the Chicago Fire on and off the field."
President of soccer operations Javier Leon also lauded Pardos performance in MLS during the twilight of his career.
Pardo arrived in the middle of the 2011 season, one in which the Fire won just two of their first 20 MLS matches and had turned to Klopas as head coach. The club finished 7-2-1 in the last 10 matches to finish at the .500 level (9-9-16) and barely missed postseason play. The team's playoff slumber ended in 2012.
Although Pardo is ready for his next step off the field, his decision to call it quits didn't come easily.
"It was a difficult decision," he admitted. "The journey has been exciting, and Im proud of the things Ive accomplished."