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TORONTO – Toronto FC prospect Zachary Herold has been forced to end his soccer career at just 17.

The defender has been diagnosed with a condition called HCM which causes abnormal thickening of a part of the heart muscle. Strenuous exercise carries with it the risk of developing a potentially fatal irregular heart rhythm, or arrhythmia.

Herold’s condition was flagged in a pre-season medical.

The heart condition has been linked to the deaths of athletes like Windsor Spitfires captain Mickey Renaud, Russian hockey player Alexei Cherepanov and Cameroon soccer star Marc-Vivien Foe.

The 2010 MLS SuperDraft pick will be honoured in a ceremonial coin toss before Saturday’s game against the visiting New England Revolution.

“Early in pre-season we did medical’s on all our players, and obviously our doctor, Ira Smith, was concerned with some of Zac’s results,” Mo Johnston, Toronto FC’s director of soccer, said in a statement Monday. “From there he then began a series of tests with a variety of doctors, in both Canada and the U.S.

“Zac’s health was first and foremost in this process. 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 honouring him in front of our fans, and give them a chance to show their support.”

Herold was drafted in the second round, 24th overall, in the January MLS draft in Philadelphia.

Herold made 15 appearances for the U.S. under-17 team.

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

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