SANDY, Utah – Heard often on the night before Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. team met Honduras: “Hey, I didn’t know Eddie Pope was here!”
Everyone seemed so genuinely excited to see the man who stands as one of the truly respected figures around U.S. Soccer and at Real Salt Lake, the club where the former United States center back spent the final two seasons of his decorated career.
He is here officially as part of U.S. Soccer’s ongoing centennial celebration.
Pope, now the director of player relations for the MLS Players Union, made an appearance last night at the U.S. rally, held inside a local music venue and attended by more than 600 fans.
Fans here seemed as excited to see Pope as they were to see the U.S. players who followed. (By the way, how many high level athletes will have this kind of close interaction with fans on the night before such a big match? Truly, another reason U.S. Soccer players have a special relationship with their supporters … and here’s hoping it stays that way as the game develops here.)
Pope answered a few questions, talking about playing alongside Alexi Lalas, about the toughest strikers he ever faced (Oliver Bierhoff, Francesco Totti and Roy Lassiter) and about why he never played in Europe. Mostly, he said, he simply found a place in the game here that suited him.
“Some of it was about timing,” Pope told the crowd. “Some of it was really being proud to help form the game here.”
Pope was a rookie in 1996, Major League Soccer’s inaugural season. He played until 2007.