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Jones, 36, set to retire after Galaxy's season

He is one of eight players left from the first MLS season in 1996 and the only one to have played every year for L.A.

March 20, 2007|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

Cobi Jones, the last of the original Galaxy players, announced Monday that he will retire at the end of the upcoming Major League Soccer season.

Jones, 36, is the only player to have played every season with the Galaxy and is one of eight players remaining from the league's inaugural season in 1996.

In a ceremony at the Home Depot Center attended by many of Jones' former and current teammates and coaches, the former UCLA and U.S. national team standout said that although he was retiring as a player he would continue to be involved in soccer, possibly in broadcasting.

Tim Leiweke, chief executive of AEG, which owns the Galaxy, was one of those in attendance Monday morning.

"A couple of months ago, Cobi and I had a chance to catch up and have lunch," Leiweke said. "And we sat down and Cobi said, 'Look, there's something I have to tell you. I'm going to retire.'

"And I said, 'Well, that's too bad. I think we've got David Beckham.'

"Then Cobi immediately said, 'At the end of this next season.' "

The story was good for a laugh Monday, but not necessarily true.

Long before there was David Beckham, there was Cobi Jones, and the fact that the England national team captain is joining the Galaxy in July had nothing to do with Jones sticking around for another season.

"It's good to have him here, but that wasn't a factor into my decision at all," Jones said.

In his prepared remarks, Jones, who with the Galaxy won MLS championships in 2002 and 2005 as well as the U.S. Open Cup in 2001 and 2005 and the CONCACAF Champions Cup in 2000, said the time was right to call it a career.

"A good friend of mine, Juergen Klinsmann, said, 'Don't let them know until you're ready.' Now is definitely the time," he said. "It has been a great 15 years. It's been absolutely stellar."

Jones made the first of his U.S.-record 164 appearances for the national team in 1992.

Alexi Lalas, the Galaxy's president and general manager, was Jones' teammate at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and later on the U.S. and Galaxy teams.

Like Jones, he has seen MLS change dramatically in its 11 seasons, with attendance increasing, new teams being added, stadiums being built and now a player such as Beckham coming to the league.

"All of these things are in large part due to the impact on and off the field of Cobi Jones, and unfortunately we don't recognize it enough," Lalas said.

"I've had the privilege of playing with Cobi and against Cobi for a number of years and I have seen him grow from the raw walk-on at UCLA to the American soccer icon that he is today."

Columbus Crew Coach Sigi Schmid, who won national championships with Jones at UCLA and the Galaxy, paid similar tribute.

"He's been the cornerstone of the team," Schmid said.

"He was blessed with great speed, obviously, but he's also got tremendous balance and he's got a huge desire to win. When you got that competitiveness out of Cobi, he was just tremendous.

"He didn't like losing. He didn't like losing at all, and that's what made him the successful player that he is."

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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