The Vancouver Whitecaps won their final match of the Major League Soccer season with a resounding score of 3-0 on Sunday, giving Korean left-back Lee Young-pyo a memorable last hurrah for the team.
Lee wrapped up his 14-year career in professional football in style, earning a penalty but gracefully stepping aside to allow the team's top striker to add to his season's tally.
Fans shouted their encouragement for the World Cup veteran throughout the game against the Colorado Rapids at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver. When the ref blew his whistle to indicate a foul on Lee in the 43rd minute, cries of "Y.P. Lee!" filled the stadium as fans wanted him to get on the scoresheet one last time.
However, Lee handed the ball to striker Camilo Sanvezzo of Brazil. Sanvezzo, who played for Gyeongnam in the K-League in 2009, and was competing for the honor of top scorer in MLS this season, rifled the ball into the back of the net. His hat trick saw him crowned top scorer with 22 goals, one ahead of Chicago Fire's Mike Magee.
During the game, Lee showed why he remains one of the strongest defenders to play for his country by keeping the Rapids' strikers frustrated. Sanvezzo also paid respect to the player by picking up the ball and putting it at Lee's feet in honor after scoring the penalty, while kneeling before him. Other teammates joined them and hugged the two players.
The Whitecaps, now in their fifth year, gave Lee a rousing sending-off. Even the tickets to Monday’s game had his face printed on them. Meanwhile, the message "Thank you, Y.P." flashed up on the screen in the stadium in both English and Korean before kickoff.
Fans also played their part, with large Korean flags bearing Lee's face appearing in the stands along with banners and messages in support of the player. They gave him a standing ovation when he left the field during stoppage time as the match was drawing to a close.
In the post-match interview, Lee said, "I've retired from football, but I feel so happy because this is exactly how I wanted to retire," from a good club surrounded by great people.
In his prime, Lee was a world-class full back. He was instrumental in Korea's fourth-place finish at the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan, and the nation's first away qualification to the round of 16 in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
He is the third-highest-capped Korean player with 127 international match appearances, only bested by current Korean national team manager Hong Myung-bo, who had 136 appearances, and former starting goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae, who had 132.
Lee's successful career saw him play for some of the best teams in some of the best leagues in the world -- in England, Germany, North America and the Netherlands. He said he plans to stay in Vancouver while he studies sports marketing, and "has not thought about coaching in Korea yet."