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Early end to playing career gives Dan Kennedy an early start on what's next

Dan Kennedy’s retirement from soccer in March was so unexpected, it caught a lot of people by surprise.

Including Dan Kennedy.

“They came to me,” he said of the Galaxy, who ushered the goalkeeper into a rocking chair at age 34. “It was a dollars-and-cents deal. I became a drag on the salary cap, and they had to make a decision.”

But if Kennedy has become adept at anything during his time in professional soccer, it is learning how to turn negatives into positives, something he managed repeatedly during seven seasons spent on awful Chivas USA teams, with which he somehow managed to become a star.

And he’s done the same this time, parlaying his unwanted retirement into an opportunity to start a new career in the Galaxy’s front office.

“For me, the time is right to start the next chapter,” he said. “The transition’s never going to be easy, but at least here, we have the stability to give me the smoothest transition. That’s how the decision was made.”

Actually, the decision was made for Kennedy, who played only 115 minutes in 2016 after sustaining a groin injury minutes into the season opener. Although he put in hundreds of hours of work in the offseason and reported fit to training camp, with the Galaxy in the midst of a youth movement, the team approached Kennedy shortly before the first game and offered to buy out the final year of a contract that had paid him more than $195,000 the season before.

“Of course I was disappointed. Without a doubt,” he said earlier this month. “I worked really hard to come in fit.

“I wish I would have known sooner. … If they had told me in November, maybe I would have gone somewhere else.”

Or maybe not.

Kennedy, who grew up in Orange County, had waited his whole career to come to the Galaxy. When the team acquired him from Dallas after the 2015 season, he even insisted on a two-year deal, one he figured would allow him to finish his playing career in Southern California before stepping into a management role.

However, few things in Kennedy’s career have gone as planned.

Drafted by Chivas USA in the 2005 supplemental draft, Kennedy wound up playing 89 games for the Puerto Rico Islanders of the USL and Municipal Iquique of Chile’s Primera B before getting his first MLS start in 2008. He played well enough to earn a call-up to the U.S. national team that winter, only to wreck his knee in the final exhibition game, costing him the season.

But by 2011, he had won the Chivas starting job for good, eventually earning the captain’s armband and playing well enough to earn a spot on the All-Star team and finish second in voting for the MLS goalkeeper of the year. The rest of the team was awful, though, averaging 18 losses a season during his four years in goal.

When the league folded Chivas after the 2014 season, Kennedy was its all-time leader in games (144), minutes (12,764), shutouts (28) and saves (451). And after a one-year stopover in Dallas, where he posted five shutouts in 16 starts before a knee injury sent him to the sidelines again, Kennedy was back in StubHub Center with the Galaxy.

It was a move he considered both the last step in his playing career and the first one toward what would follow.

“I wanted to … move home and kind of have a larger-picture look into the future of my life,” said Kennedy, who enrolled at USC to begin work on an MBA before he quit playing.

“As I transitioned out of playing, there was nowhere else I wanted to be and no other team I wanted to be working for. For me, the move was very much a decision on my career.”

So when the Galaxy approached him with a buyout offer last winter, he wasn’t eager to stop playing but he was ready to get on with what would come next. And he had a willing mentor in Galaxy President Chris Klein to help him through the transition.

Klein, a former MLS All-Star, played with Kansas City and Real Salt Lake before finishing his 14-year playing career with the Galaxy, who began grooming him for a front-office job in his final season. He now runs the team.

Kennedy, he said, is following a similar path.

“There are many challenges in going from the field to the front office,” Klein said. “I had people that were around me that did — and still do — teach me a tremendous amount. And it’s up to Dan to lean on those people.

“We all have our own paths. Dan’s trying to figure out now what direction he wants to take.”

Kennedy’s current priority is helping organize the inaugural LA Galaxy Cup, a youth tournament that will feature more than 200 academy and club teams — including ones from Swansea City, FC Porto and Mexico — competing in nine divisions at Orange County Great Park in Irvine in March.

It may not be the same as building an MLS team or managing a franchise. But it’s a start.

“I’ve really kind of valued and enjoyed the growth of this league on the business side. And that’s kind of where my interest was,” said Kennedy, who lives with wife Stephanie and 2-year-old son Archer in Long Beach. A daughter is expected to join the family soon.

“So the natural next step,” he continued, “was to get my hands dirty a little bit in the front office and learning how it operates. And understanding why it operates that way.

“You talk about being at peace with it all. How could I not be? I’m glad I’ve kind of taken this step into what’s next. I do reflect back. But the ship’s sailed.”

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11

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