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UNITED WAY D.C. HUNG TOUGH AFTER A BAD START TO WIN THE FIRST MLS TITLE

Oct. 28, 1996
Oct. 28, 1996

Table of Contents
Oct. 28, 1996

Faces In The Crowd

UNITED WAY D.C. HUNG TOUGH AFTER A BAD START TO WIN THE FIRST MLS TITLE

By TIMOTHY CROTHERS

George Edward Pope ran off to the men's room. Four minutes were
gone in sudden death overtime in the inaugural Major League
Soccer championship game at Foxboro (Mass.) Stadium on Sunday
when, still in the john, he heard a momentous roar. He hurried
back to his seat where he spotted his wife, Lillian, in an
advanced state of shock.

This is an article from the Oct. 28, 1996 issue Original Layout

"What happened?" George asked.

"Edward won the game," she replied.

"You're kidding," he said. "My son did that?"

On the field, George Edward Pope Jr. lay in a mud puddle under a
pile of teammates, having just nailed a header inside the left
post to clinch D.C. United's 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles
Galaxy. The goal was only Pope's third in 24 games, and it
completed a most improbable, yet utterly predictable, comeback.
Call it the United way.

During much of the MLS season, D.C. saw its enemy in the mirror.
United got shut out in its opening two matches and lost six of
its first seven games. D.C. coach Bruce Arena, who had led the
University of Virginia to four straight NCAA soccer titles (1991
to '94), found himself delivering motivational speeches that
essentially amounted to: United we stand, divided we fall.
Though United never had a winning record in the regular season,
it won six of its last eight matches to finish 16-16.

In contrast, Los Angeles opened the season with a 12-game
winning streak and won over southern California fans with its
megapopular Mexican import, Jorge Campos, the neon goalie; and a
flashy UCLA alumnus with soaring dreadlocks, midfielder Cobi
Jones. The Galaxy was so Hollywood it boasted a reserve
midfielder, Andrew Shue, who moonlights on Melrose Place. "Of
course our team is full of stars," Campos said last week. "We're
the Galaxy."

The title game was a microcosm of the season. Despite a
nor'easter that was in the process of dropping four inches of
rain on eastern Massachusetts, Los Angeles got off to a fast
start and was up 2-0 arly in the second half. "The lead should
have been insurmountable," Galaxy defender Robin Fraser would
say later. "Who could have imagined mounting a comeback in that
nasty storm?"

But D.C. rallied behind its playmaker, Marco (the Devil)
Etcheverry, the Bolivian national team star who set up the three
United goals. On the game winner, Etcheverry found Pope unmarked
at the near post, the same spot from which Pope had scored the
winning goal in an Aug. 18 game against the Galaxy, on an
identical corner-kick play.

A 22-year-old senior at North Carolina, Pope has somehow found
time over the last four months to compete on the U.S. Olympic
team, play in the MLS and attend classes. "Maybe I'll be a big
man on campus this week," Pope said. "I know I'll be proud, I'll
be glowing."

Like the MLS. The league established itself as an American
soccer league with credible American players (on Sunday, all of
D.C.'s goals were scored by U.S. citizens) and enthusiastic
American spectators. Who would have thought that the MLS's New
York-New Jersey MetroStars would average 3,000 more fans than
the Mets?

It is something that not even United midfielder John Harkes, a
former ball boy for the old North American Soccer League's New
York Cosmos who has grown up to be the spokesman for U.S.
soccer, could have imagined. "I remember when the Cosmos were my
idols, and then one day the league just folded into nothing more
than memories in a scrapbook," said Harkes, who returned from
the English Premier League to help launch the MLS. "With this
season, soccer is awake again in this country. I hope that 30
years from now people will look back on this game the way we
look back on Super Bowl I."

There was relief in Harkes's voice and a conviction that the
drama just concluded would be merely the first in a long run of
championships. Just a game. Not a collector's item.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY GEORGE TIEDEMANN Making a Splash The MLS's inaugural championship game was no washout. Despite heavy rains it drew 34,643 fans, who saw D.C. United win in overtime. [Soccer players running on wet grass--T of C]COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY Jaime Moreno (9) and D.C. never rose above .500 all season, but they shook off L.A. on Sunday. [Jaime Moreno dribbling soccer ball as Los Angeles Galaxy player grapples him from behind]