I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
-- The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (T.S. Eliot)
Age isn't the only reason players retire. Many retire because they learn that they just aren't skilled enough to play professionally. Others because injuries end their careers prematurely. But if a player has demonstrated that they can play at the professional level and if they're fortunate enough to avoid a career-ending injury (or series of injuries), they're likely to stay on until Father Time says 'enough' and their body can't handle the strain anymore. Generally that happens in the mid thirties, with 5 or so years added on for the goalkeepers who do a lot less running.
I've compiled a list of the oldest players active in MLS this season and I'll run through the list of players that were 35 or older at the time I did — a list that includes 25 players. Note that one or more 34 year olds may have had birthdays since I crawled the ages, so they'll be 35 but will escape our gaze today. Only 7 of the 25 are keepers, which breaks the assumption that they make up most of the top end of ages in the league, but it makes sense if you consider that there just aren't that many goalkeepers employed in the league compared to the number of field players.
Marcus Hahnemann (40): Hahnemann is the lone quadragenarian in the league after joining the Sounders midseason to join their long list of backup keepers. It's a bit of a homecoming tour for a past Sounder legend and he's expected to be the backup for a final year in 2013 before hanging up his gloves.
Eduardo Sebrango (39): The Cuban Sebrango was a longtime Montreal Impact player who came up with the team from NASL, but after only 7 appearances for the team this year he's already announced his retirement.
Kevin Hartman (38): Hartman's career is only a year younger than MLS, as he was drafted by the Galaxy's in 1997 - their second year. He continues to be the everyday keeper for FC Dallas, though his 1.4 GAA and 66% save percentage were mediocre results for someone long considered one of the best in the league. Still, he has no plans to retire and the team evidently has no plans to replace him with Chris Seitz.
Juan Pablo Angel (37): The oldest attacking player on the list, Angel has swiftly dropped from one of the most important attackers in the league to a rotational player at Chivas USA, where he appeared in only half of the team's league games and scored 4 goals. Still, that 4 goals shockingly gave him the team Golden Boot and fellow forward Juan Agudelo is rumored to be exploring a move to Celtic, so the Goats may need another season of bench appearances from Angel if he's willing.
David Beckham (37): Beckham needs no introduction, but he's already announced (with his team still alive in the playoffs) that he'll be introducing himself to another league next season, putting an end to his eventful tenure in MLS. Going out with two consecutive MLS Cups would be a fine capstone on an experiment that was widely considered a failure in the first few years after he joined the league.
Joe Cannon (37): Cannon joined the Whitecaps as a veteran leader when they entered MLS in 2011 and took over as starter after Teitur Thordarson was sacked in the first year, but this season he lost his job to Brad Knighton in midseason. He clearly wants to continue playing, but doesn't expect that it'll be with the Whitecaps next season.
Tyrone Marshall (37): Another ex-Sounder, Marshall put in a couple of good seasons for Colorado after Seattle had decided he was done. The Jamaican announced his retirement after he was released by the Rapids earlier this month.
Matt Reis (37): Our fourth keeper, Reis was drafted by the Galaxy the season after they drafted Hartman, but was stuck at backup and moved on to the Revolution in 2003, where he's been a fixture ever since. He's expected to return next year, but The Bent Musket wrote an article last week suggesting there might be a competition for the position for the first time in a long time at Gillette Stadium.
Jon Busch (36): Busch is the guy who took over for Cannon in San Jose, He's been going strong for a Supporters Shield winner and there really isn't any question of him not coming back next season.
Bernardo Corradi (36): Corradi joined the expansion Montreal Impact as an early part of their Italian player wave. Originally he signed on for only 3 months, but then extended through the rest of the year though he missed half of the season with a knee injury. Though I haven't seen any announcements, there isn't much expectation that he'll be back with the team next season.
Marco Di Vaio (36): More Italian 36-year-olds on the Impact! They can't get enough of them. Di Vaio joined the team midseason as their first DP and played well enough for a team that nearly made the playoffs as an expansion team. There's no reason not to expect a return next season.
Guillermo Franco (36): The Fire signed the former Mexico international Franco late in the season on a free transfer. He had little impact this season and the expectation has to be that this was a signing in anticipation of the 2013 season.
Daniel Hernandez (36): FC Dallas' combustible leader transitioned into a player/coach role at the beginning of the season and after losing his starting job to Julian de Guzman midseason, he's decided to complete the transition and retire to become a fulltime coach with the team.
Ante Jazic (36): Despite his years, Jazic has remained the every day left back for Chivas opposite James Riley and this season was an MLS Fair Play award finalist and remained a part of the Canadian national team, so he doesn't seem to be going anywhere.
Pablo Mastroeni (36): Mastroeni was a longtime fixture in one of the best central midfields in MLS for years, but he missed most of this season with concussion symptoms. That's the sort of condition that ends a career, but Mastroeni feels like there's a chance he'll be able to play next season. Regardless of whether he plays or not, we wish him the best.
Alessandro Nesta (36): More 36-year-old Italians for the Impact! They're insatiable. Nesta joined at midseason along with Di Vaio, but not as a DP. Despite weird rumors that he would return to AC Milan there's every expectation that he'll return next season for the last year of his contract.
Pavel Pardo (36): More Mexican 36-year-olds on the Fire! They can't get enough of them. The veteran Mexico international Pardo joined the Fire midseason last year and stayed on with the team through 2012 in the Cuauhtemoc Blanco Memorial slow-but-creative midfield role. It was a two year deal at the beginning of 2012 and he's widely expected to continue with the team for the final year next season.
Ramiro Corrales (35): The MLS war horse gallops on. The only remaining player who was in the league in the inaugural 1996 season, Corrales remains an active player for San Jose. He was given an All-Star nod as a commissioner's pick this season, largely (it was believed) out of respect for his years of service. But if he can remain an Earthquake, Garber may need to give him another one next season as he's said he's willing to play another season if it's for San Jose.
(Update: Within minutes of this being written, San Jose announced that they're releasing Corrales, so that looks to be it for him.)
Torsten Frings (35): Ex-German international (and US nemesis) Frings was brought in to help right the ongoing Toronto FC debacle, but like everything else they've tried it didn't work out and they finished at the bottom of the table. He was injured much of the season, including a knee injury that took him out for the last couple of months, but the team expects him to be back for the 2013 preseason.
Thierry Henry (35): Henry had an excellent 2012 season — by far the best of anyone else on this list — and looks like he could go for another 3 or 4 years. It was such a good season, in fact, that there are many around the Arsenal camp who think he can still contribute in the Premier League.
Young-Pyo Lee (35): Lee was a significant offensive and defensive contributor to the Whitecaps this season — good enough that he came in second in MLS Newcomer of the Year voting and was voted the club's 2012 Player of the Year. There's no reason to think he won't be back next season.
Jimmy Nielsen (35): The tongue-wagging Dane is barely past prime in goalkeeping years and fresh off of a MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award, he should be between the pipes for at least 3 or 4 more years, likely in Kansas City.
Donovan Ricketts (35): Despite being the same age as Nielsen, Ricketts is widely considered on the tail end of his career after jumping from the Galaxy to the Impact to the Timbers in the space of one year. His midseason swap with Troy Perkins furrowed some brows, especially in Portland, but was likely a move to clear the position long-term for Portland backup Jake Gleeson. But there's no indication that Ricketts plans to retire.
Greg Sutton (35): It's a run of three keepers in a row and it's in order of decreasing fortunes, with Nielsen at the top of his game, Ricketts on the downslope, and Impact keeper Sutton done. Before the last Montreal match of the season, he announced his retirement after a 14-year pro career.
Josh Wolff (35): And last but not least Josh Wolff, who announced his retirement this morning to become a full time coach with DC United after playing with the team for two seasons.
So of the 25 oldest players in MLS only 5 (6 after the Corrales news) have officially announced their retirements, though things will certainly change as the offseason rolls on. That suggests we'll have even more 36+ players next season and that MLS hasn't changed its status (or likely its reputation) as a retirement league for European players.