by Al Campbell
VANCOUVER, Oct. 27 (Xinhua) -- Lee Young-pyo, South Korea's soccer great who played a key role in leading his country to three consecutive World Cup appearances, hung up his cleats Sunday, retiring following a storied career.
The 36-year-old right back, the third-highest-capped South Korean player with 127 international appearances, closed out his career before a sold-out house at British Columbia Place stadium in helping the Vancouver Whitecaps to a 3-0 win over the Colorado Rapids, the Canadian team's final game of the Major League Soccer (MLS) regular season.
Brazilian striker Camilo Sanvezzo scored a hat-trick to give him 22 goals on the season, winning the MLS Golden Boot as the league's highest scorer.
"I have retired from soccer tonight, but I'm feeling so happy this moment because it is exactly what I wanted to get from retirement when I was young," said Lee, who signed with Vancouver as free agent in December 2011 after two seasons in Saudi Arabia.
In a career that saw him play with such giants as PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch league, Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League and Borussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga, the diminutive Lee brought a much needed veteran presence to Vancouver, a third-year MLS team that missed the playoffs this season.
"I will never forget the last two years in Vancouver in my life, so this club remain in my mind as my team at all the times," said Lee, who appeared in 65 MLS games, scoring once and adding 10 assists.
Vancouver coach Martin Rennie, whose future remains uncertain with the team missing the post-season after qualifying for the first time last year, praised Lee as an incredible character and player for the presence he brought.
"At no point in time has he ever thought of himself as too big for anything or too good for anybody. This is just amazing that someone who's achieved as much as he has is as humble as he is and is just as solid a character in person," the Scotsman said.
"He's really helped us in these two years to develop this team and really move it forward. In the last two years, the only teams in MLS that have improved year-on-year is the Whitecaps and New England and I think Y.P. (Lee) has had a big part in it."
Whitecaps' defender Jay DeMerit, who passed on his captaincy to Lee for his final game, said there was excitement around the team wherever it went as large groups of fans would come out to see the player who helped ROK to World Cup appearances in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
"You can feel it when you arrive in airports all around the world with this team. There's people there to greet him. There's people there to give him muffins and candy bars and everything they can," said the U.S. international.
"Everything he does he does with class and that filters down through the team and through this organization and we're very lucky to have him. Again, I think it was important as a team to send him off on a right note because he deserves it."
Lee indicated he would be staying in Vancouver for the next two to three years to pursue his "interest" in sport business and administration. He wouldn't go as far as to say if it included coaching.
"I never thinking about that, but I have interest about the sports business and administration first," he said. "So I will think about my future after taking several weeks (off)."