January 29, 2016 12:23 am

Whitecaps striker Robert Earnshaw retires

WATCH: The Vancouver Whitecaps lost a striker, but gained a coach. As Shanel Pratap reports, Robert Earnshaw retired as a soccer player, but will take up coaching duties with the team.

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A well-travelled soccer player, Robert Earnshaw usually wasted little time introducing himself to the fans.

He loved to score on debut, dipping into a deep bag of goal celebrations to mark the moment. A favourite in Toronto was his trademark front somersault followed by a sweeping matador-like move.

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“I’m all about the experiences,” the Welsh striker said upon his arrival to Toronto in 2013. “I mean I love playing football and I’m thankful that football’s given me the chance to see the world and enjoy it at the same time.”

The 34-year-old former Welsh international called it quits Thursday, ending his playing career as a Vancouver Whitecap. He played 18 professional seasons, scoring 220 goals in 520 games for clubs in Wales, England, Scotland, Israel, Canada and the United States.

Earnshaw scored 16 goals in 59 appearances for Wales and is the only player to record a hat trick in every professional league in England, including the FA Cup and League Cup, and for his country.

“Grew up watching @RobertEarnshaw and had the opportunity to play alongside him. What a great player!! Good luck in the new role #legend,” tweeted Arsenal and Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey.

The five-foot-eight 160-pound Earnshaw will remain in Vancouver as the head coach of the Whitecaps’ under-14 team, and as the club’s strikers coach.

“I’m excited and ready to move on to the next stage of my life,” Earnshaw said in a letter to Whitecaps fans. “It was important for me to retire as a player on my own terms and the opportunity to join Vancouver’s coaching staff solidified my decision.”

Born in Zambia, Earnshaw moved to Wales when he was nine and scored against Germany in his senior national team debut in May 2002.

Earnshaw began his career with Cardiff City, before spells with Greenock Morton, West Brom, Norwich, Derby and Nottingham Forest and Maccabi Tel Aviv before coming to North America. He also had a strint at Blackpool.

He scored twice for twice for Toronto FC in his first home game for the club in March 2013. In August 2014, he scored in his first match for the Chicago Fire in a 2-2 tie at Toronto. Earnshaw spent last season with the Whitecaps, scoring a 90th-minute winner in his debut against the Portland Timbers in March 2015.

“I had the pleasure of playing with (Earnshaw) at both the club and country level and last year as his coach,” Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson said in a statement. “He was a model player throughout his career.”

Earnshaw finished his Major League Soccer career with 13 goals in 41 appearances with Toronto, Chicago and Vancouver.

His career transfer fees totalled 15 million pounds (C$30.2 million) although recent moves were free transfers.

“Football has been a big part of my life since I can remember,” he said. “It’s been an honour to play for a living and I am fortunate to be able to continue in the sport that I love.”

© 2016 The Canadian Press

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