Zac Herold was on thr precipice of a future in professional soccer, just four months ago. The 17 year-old defender was a standout with the U.S. under-17 residency program, and Major League Soccer side Toronto FC used their first pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. Then came the press release on Monday. A press release to announce his retirement.

“Announcing my retirement from soccer at this age is something I never, ever thought would happen to me,” Herold said in the statement Monday.

“This news was very hard to take but I know it’s the best decision for me and my health,” he added.

Herold, who turns 18 June 7, suffers from Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), which causes abnormal thickening of a part of the heart muscle.  Strenuous exercise for HCM sufferers can trigger a potentially fatal irregular heart rhythm, or arrhythmia.

HCM is not uncommon and according to the head of cardiology for Major League Soccer,Dr. Christine Lawless, the condition is found in about one in 500 people and has been linked to the deaths of such athletes as, Russian hockey player Alexei Cherepanov and Cameroon soccer star Marc-Vivien Foe who died on the field during a match at the Confederations Cup in 2003.

The irregularity was discovered by Toronto FC team doctor Ira Smith, the team’s doctor, during the Red’s pre-season

“It shouldn’t have any impact on his day-to-day activities, but for the rest of his life, Herold’s exercise will be limited.” said Dr. Smith during a Monday press conference. “The main concern was the right diagnosis”

The announcement was felt throughout the organization.

“Zac’s health was first and foremost in this process,” Mo Johnston, Toronto’s director of soccer, said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to Zac and his family; it’s a very difficult situation. We felt it was the right thing to do by honoring him in front of our fans, and give them a chance to show their support.”

I am grateful to Dr. Smith, and all the specialists I’ve seen over the last few months — this news was very hard to take but I know it’s the best decision for me and my health.

“My parents have been with me every step of the way, and it means so much to me that I’m able to retire as a Toronto FC player. The whole team has been wonderful to me and my family and although it’ll be a tough day, I’m looking forward to seeing everyone on the 22nd.”

Herold will be honored by the team before the May 22 game against New England at BMO Field.

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