Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard confirmed Friday that he will leave the English Premier League team at the end of the season, clearing the way for a possible move to Major League Soccer and the five-time champion Galaxy.
"This has been the toughest decision of my life and one which both me and my family have agonized over for a good deal of time," Gerrard told the Liverpool team website. "I am making the announcement now so that the manager and the team are not distracted by stories or speculation about my future.”
Liverpool is the only club the former England international has played for, appearing in 695 senior matches in all competitions and scoring 180 goals -- including two in a draw with Leicester City this week. But after turning down a contract extension in November, Gerrard, 34, said he is ready for a new challenge.
"My decision is completely based on my wish to experience something different in my career and life and I also want to make sure that I have no regrets when my playing career is eventually over," he said.
With the start of the new year, Gerrard is free to negotiate with any team that shows an interest. But he has already ruled out playing for a rival EPL club.
"I'm going to carry on playing and although I can't confirm at this stage where that will be, I can say it will be somewhere that means I won't be playing for a competing club and will not therefore be lining up against Liverpool - that is something I could never contemplate," he said.
The Red Bulls and Galaxy both have a designated player spot open and cash to spend. The MLS has a salary cap but each team is allowed to sign three designated players whose contracts count only partially against the cap.
A DP spot opened in New York with the December retirement of Thierry Henry, who made $4.35 million last season, while the retirement of Landon Donovan gave the Galaxy a DP spot as well as more than $8 million to spend over the next two seasons.
With the Galaxy, Gerrard could slot seamlessly into Donovan’s vacated midfield spot, where he would feed former Liverpool teammate Robbie Keane.
The situation is a little trickier in Toronto, which already has three DPs. But speculation is growing that Jermain Defoe could be headed back to the EPL full time. That would allow free-spending Toronto to make an offer to Gerrard, who will reportedly earn $13.2 million from Liverpool this season.
Some media reports say the Galaxy, who have been pursuing Gerrard for months, have already offered the midfielder a two-year deal, something the Galaxy would not confirm.
“No comment,” Coach and General Manager Bruce Arena wrote in a text message.
Team president Chris Klein said the team would follow a longstanding policy and decline to talk about players who are not under contract.
Back in England, Gerrard’s decision was met with equal parts shocks and disbelief.
"It is almost an impossible task to find the words to appropriately sum up Steven Gerrard and his importance to Liverpool,” Coach Brendan Rodgers told the team website. "This is an era where the word 'legend' is vastly overused, but in his case it actually doesn't do him justice."
Liverpool striker Rickie Lambert described Gerrard as "Mr. Liverpool."
Gerrard, who gave a thumbs-up to photographers as he drove away from the team’s Melwood training facility Friday, insisted he is leaving Liverpool on good terms.
"It is a very special place to be part of. It is my sincere hope and wish that one day I can return to serve Liverpool again, in whatever capacity best helps the club,” he said. "One point that is important to make is that from now until the last kick of the last game of the season, I will be as fully committed to the team as I ever have been and giving everything I have to help Liverpool win games.”