Eddie Pope

Eddie Pope makes an appearance at United States match

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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.

About Major League Soccer Players Union’s curious statement on ‘Ball Boy-gate’

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Boy, did the Major League Soccer Players Union get this one wrong. Instead of coming out in defense of Mario De Luna, Eddie Pope and his staff should have just kept quiet and let Sunday’s backlash boil over. Instead, they may have reignited the small controversy. In the process, a lot of MLS fans will be left to wonder what the Union could have possibly been thinking by issuing a release about Ball Boy-gate.

That kind of skepticism (if not outright befuddlement) was the initial reaction after the union’s Wednesday statement became known, one in which the initial sentiment becomes entirely overwhelmed by the inanity of the greater purpose:

Physical contact between a player and a ball boy should never occur. Rather than focusing exclusively on player punishment, however, the league must eliminate ball boy antics, as the Players Union requested last year. There should be no place in our game for off-field personnel to attempt to impact play on the field.

The failure to address this problem substantially increases the risk of unfortunate incidents like we saw last weekend. The league and our teams must do their part to keep our stadiums safe. We urge the league once again to take action and hold teams accountable for the conduct of their ball boys.

[MORE: Another MLS ball boy incident, this time in Portland]

The MLSPU would be wise to amend the statement, deleting everything after “occur,” because while ball boy “antics” may be a relevant discussion at some point, now is not the time. The ball boy did nothing wrong on Sunday, and even if he did, there are various other ways to deal with the problem:

  • De Luna could have found another of the myriad of balls on the sideline, …
  • He could have appealed to the head official (at which time, he would have learned it was not Chivas USA’s ball) …
  • Said head official could have compensated for the antics by adding extra time to the game, or …
  • A 25-year-old adult could have recognized the bigger picture and not shoved a child half his size over a soccer ball.

The MLSPU is essentially an advocacy organization, and as such, they’re going to protect their members’ rights. When those rights (especially collectively bargained ones) are infringed upon, they act, particularly as it concerns issues in and around the workplace.

So one possible, hasty conclusion to be drawn from this is that the Union, as the players’ bargaining unit, feels physical action against recalcitrant field staff is an acceptable response for its members? Or, if we keep in mind the first sentence of the statement, a physical response – even when it’s against a minor doing no wrong – is something that’s entitled to some level of defense?

And you wonder why lawyers have a bad reputation.

This is an inexplicably narrow-minded statement, one that’s does no good but let one member of the organization’s bargaining unit know his rights are being respected. But again, what are those rights, exactly? And how are those rights impinging on others’, including the greater good of the league?

And the greater good of the Players Union. This kind of blanket defense of an obviously out-of-line player is repugnant. Worse: In issuing a public statement about this, Pope and the Union’s leadership have the default effect of speaking on behalf of the greater body at large. This becomes the union, as a multi-hundred-member group, mitigating De Luna’s behavior.

That’s unless others speak up. It will be interesting to see if anybody does. The issue of a defender drawing a one-game suspension might not be enough to motivate any principled stands, but it will be interesting to hear how players respond if asked about their union’s stance.

Video: National team legends talk U.S. rivalry with Mexico

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tf4gIj1bMEg%5D

As Kasey Keller notes in this video, for a long period of time, the U.S. seemed to have Mexico’s number. The results paint a slightly different picture, one that saw each team dominate on home soil, but between the Round of 16 win at the 2002 World Cup and the number of other matches that would take place in the States, you can see why Team USA developed a confidence when it came to Mexico. Particularly given where the States were coming from — the wilderness that was pre-1990 U.S. Soccer — you can understand why the generation of players that led the U.S. to some relative halcyon days takes enormous pride in what they accomplished.

And if you’re around an old national teamer and the topic comes up, the pride still burns. The rivalry is still there. It isn’t something that they file away only to bring out when the cameras turn on. As former captain Claudio Reyna said to me once, “[Mexico] still act like we weren’t beating them.”

Here, in U.S. Soccer’s 100 Moments series on YouTube, Cobi Jones, Eddie Pope, Eddie Lewis, Kasey Keller and Alexi Lalas talk about the rivalry they helped build … Just part of your primer before tonight’s match at Azteca.

My favorite all-time Christmas present: Classic National Team gear

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Eddie Pope has become a litmus test. Recognize his greatness, and you’ve been around. Remember him as the player you saw in Major League Soccer? At least you’ve been here that long.

Don’t know him at all? Oh, boy. Let me get the first round. We’re going to be here a while, because when I wear a U.S. Men’s National Team kit with “Pope, 23” on the back, it’s a statement.

He’s not on television every week like some of his peers, so the relative anonymity for the former national team defender makes some sense. His current role as Director of Player Relations for MLS’s Players Union also keeps him out of the limelight, a place he probably prefers, though it keeps his legacy from being trumpeted. Because he was always a quite person, many fans don’t remember how truly brilliant he was.

Lalas got the fame. And Marcelo Balboa got the goals. All Pope got was respect.

Many of his teammates still refer to him as one of the most underrated talents of his generation. With the athleticism of a converted midfielder, Pope was the cornerstone of Bruce Arena’s back lines, his skill, speed, and athleticism allowing him to play in the middle of three-man defenses the U.S. has scarcely employed since.

He was the best defender the U.S. has ever had, and since he retired from international soccer six years ago, nobody has come particularly close.

Not everybody agrees, but these are the types of discussions born from U.S. Soccer’s mid-90s ascension, a rise that brought the program in from 40 years in the international wilderness. Who was better: Tab Ramos or Claudio Reyna? Brad Friedel or Kasey Keller? What was the best way to use Eric Wynalda? And how good would he have been if he his international career match up better with Brian McBride’s?

If you have a friend in soccer, you’ve undoubtedly talked these things through. And that’s why a classic national team kit is the ultimate holiday gift. No gift will be received better than one which says, “Friends remember other friends’ favorite national team player.” And since you’ve spent ours upon hours talking about each others’ favorites, there’ll be no doubt which kit to get.

source:  Or if the women’s national team holds a tighter gip on your (or your friend’s) heart, there’s nothing better than finding a kit to commemorate USA `99. A “Hamm 9,” “Akers 10” or “Lilly 13” will earn a lot of soccer hipster cred. Even if you prefer some attachment to the current national team squad, a “Rampone 3” is a way to subtly, snobbishly flaunt your recognition of the team’s roots.

Unfortunately, these type of gifts are difficult to come by. If you’re truly committed to getting an authentic kit, you’ll have to be persistent, checking Ebay regularly in addition to trying to track down something through more conventional stores. For example, the last time an Eddie Pope national team jersey hit the market was mid-November (though a Mia Hamm kit did clear two days ago).

And if you can’t track down an old school version, you can always customize a current kit via U.S. Soccer’s website, a move that has the underlying cache of saying, “This player? I still want him on the team today.” Because you are a knowledgable soccer fan, after all.

And for a soccer fan, there’s no better moment than opening the box you’re sure will be a sweater only to see it’s a kit – the exact opposite end of the clothing excitement spectrum. If you’re smart about it, pack the kit with the player’s name out so all the shock arrives at once. Then, as you see them hurriedly pull the jersey over their shoulders, you’ll know you’ve given the perfect soccer present.