SAN JOSE, Calif. – When he joined MLS as a callow teenager, Ramiro Corrales would have been pleased with a professional career that lasted a decade.
Instead, the 36-year-old’s body of work stretched nearly twice as long – and leaves behind an indelible imprint on the San Jose Earthquakes.
The team announced Monday that Corrales, San Jose’s all-time leader in appearances (249), starts (227) and minutes (20,117) in league play, plans to retire at the end of this season.
“Just being here after so many years, I’m proud of that,” Corrales told reporters Tuesday after logging 90 minutes in the Quakes’ 3-2 Reserve League defeat to Chivas USA. “I never thought in my wildest dreams that I was going to be playing this long. I always thought, ‘If I play 10, 12 years, I’ll be happy.’
“I’m still here after 18 seasons.”
Corrales debuted for San Jose at the dawn of MLS in 1996, and eventually outlasted all of his contemporaries from that season to become the last active player from the league’s inaugural year.
“Ramiro’s a legend,” Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch said. “He’s been there and done it all as a player. It’s sad to see somebody retire ... He means a lot to the organization. You bring up that name and you think, ‘San Jose.’ San Jose and Ramiro Corrales, they go hand in hand. It’ll be sad not to have him around next year, that’s for sure.”
Corrales said teammates urged him to come back for one more year, but the spinal-disc problems that have plagued him in recent seasons proved too difficult to overcome this time.
“The body’s telling me,” Corrales said. “It’s mainly my back. This year, it’s been bothering me a lot and it goes down to my legs, to my hamstrings. It doesn’t let me train properly, so I think it’s time to call it quits.”
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Corrales grew up an hour south of San Jose, in Salinas, and originally landed with the Quakes after a trade from Columbus, who selected him 81st overall in the league’s initial player draft. Corrales won two MLS Cups with the Quakes (2001 and 2003), but moved to Europe when the club decamped for Houston in 2005. When the expansion Quakes arrived in 2008, they quickly snapped him up in a trade with the Dynamo.
“I think he’s always been underrated,” Quakes general manager John Doyle said. “We had the opportunity to get his rights back from Houston, get him back here in San Jose and we jumped at the chance. He’s just been a great professional and a great leader of the club.”
Corrales has two assists in 798 minutes of league play this season, ranking him third on the club in terms of assists per minute, behind Shea Salinas and Walter Martinez. With the Quakes depleted by injury, Corrales started the first eight matches; in Doyle’s estimation, “in the first five games, I thought he was our best player.”
But that heavy early use might have burned Corrales out; he’s made only three league appearances, including a one-minute cameo, since April 21.
“He’s probably still the best soccer player on the club,” Quakes interim coach Mark Watson said. “His passing, his vision, his feel for the game is second to none. It’s unfortunate, because there’s a point in time where your legs go a little bit and you never want to see it. He’s been a fantastic part of the club.”
Corrales said it took a while to wrap his own head around the idea of retirement. He vetted his plans with his family before following through.
“After 18 years, it’s hard to give it up,” Corrales said. “It’s fun to be out here competing, joking with the guys and playing every weekend ... Playing 5-v-2 with the guys in the morning, having a laugh, that’s what I’m going to miss the most.”