VANCOUVER, BC – Before joining Vancouver Whitecaps FC in December 2011, Young-Pyo Lee admits he had plenty of other suitors.
Considering his pedigree, that’s not much of a surprise.
The South Korean defender built a resume that included 12 appearances over three FIFA World Cups, successful stints with top-level European clubs PSV Eindhoven and Tottenham Hotspur, and a total of 11 different championships with four different teams.
Though Lee was nearing the end of his career, there were several different teams that came calling.
“It was a very, very difficult decision,” Lee told whitecapsfc.com. “But when I look back now, choosing Vancouver was one of the best decisions of my life.”
Lee, who spent the last two seasons of his illustrious 14-year professional career in Vancouver, will be honoured prior to kickoff on Saturday when Whitecaps FC host Houston Dynamo at BC Place.
After joining the club in advance of the 2012 MLS season, Lee started 63 of 65 regular season appearances with the Blue and White. In his first year, he was voted the club’s BMO Player of the Year, while leading Whitecaps FC to their first appearance in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
In total, the 5-foot-9 right back picked up a goal and 10 assists during his time in Vancouver.
“I have played with so many different clubs and in so many different countries,” Lee said, “but for me, the last two years with Vancouver were very, very special.”
And the reason for that goes beyond just soccer.
“The most important thing is not soccer, the most important thing is the people,” Lee said. “Soccer is very important, but the most important thing is soccer with who? In Vancouver, the players and club, all the people are very, very nice.”
“It is one of the best memories of my life,” he added.
Experience Y.P. Lee's final match in Vancouver
The best memory of them all, however, was Lee’s last game: a 3-0 win over Colorado Rapids in Vancouver’s 2013 season finale. It was a game that saw Lee walk onto the pitch with his two daughters, wear the captain’s armband, and receive a standing ovation before the game as well as when he was subbed off in the 90th minute.
To cap off the night, the team gathered at midfield and lifted Lee in celebration.
“I never expected anything like that,” said Lee, who is often asked about that final game when he’s back in Korea. “After the game, I felt so thankful to the fans, to the staff, to the players, to everybody. When I look back at the last two years, I say to myself that I’m a very lucky guy.”
Now that he’s retired from professional soccer, he feels the same way. Five months after that final game, Lee said he’s very “comfortable” with the decision he made to call it a career – though, naturally, he still misses the game at times.
“When I wake up in the morning, the last 14 years, I immediately went to the training ground to play soccer,” said Lee, who still trains with the ‘Caps on occasion. “But now I don’t need to anymore. So it feels like something is wrong, but now is much better than before.”
Life after soccer hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park, however. Lee has a contract with the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), which is South Korea’s largest television network, to provide commentary during the upcoming FIFA World Cup. He was just in Korea earlier this month and will return there at the beginning of April to continue preparations.
“Before I retired from soccer, I thought I had all of the time,” he said. “But now that I’ve finished soccer, I’m more busy. It’s not easy, but it’s getting better. It’s fun.”
Lee will remain in Korea for the duration of the World Cup, before returning to Vancouver in August. It’s at that point that he plans on applying to the University of British Columbia to pursue business studies.
Eventually, Lee plans to move back to his native Korea for good, but he said Vancouver and Canada will always hold a special place in his heart. And his two young daughters feel the same way.
A few days ago, Lee said they were playing a curling video game between Korea and Canada and they didn’t know what team to choose.
“I said to them, ‘You are Korean, you have to choose Korea,’” Lee said in laughter. “But they said, ‘Why? We’re in Canada.’ My two daughters are more supportive of Canada than Korea.”
Whether or not Lee feels the same way, he said he will always be supportive of Whitecaps FC. At a training session earlier this week, he was asked about Saturday’s ceremony. His response: “It’s a very important game for our team.”
“I feel the Vancouver Whitecaps FC are still my team,” he told whitecapsfc.com. “My team forever.”
Whitecaps FC season tickets start at the prorated price of just $331 and single-match tickets start at $22, subject to applicable fees. The 'Caps also offer a flexible range of ticket products, including half-season tickets ($244), 5-packs ($149), student season tickets ($199), and a youth soccer half-season ticket ($100). For more information on all Whitecaps FC ticket options, call 604.669.9283 ext. 2 or visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.