Pope pondering post-player life

For the first time he can remember, Eddie Pope's future doesn't include soccer. Not yet, anyway.

updated: October 22, 2007 17:28 IST
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Salt Lake City:

For the first time he can remember, Eddie Pope's future doesn't include soccer. Not yet, anyway.

The veteran former American international defender is retiring, ending a career that included three World Cups and the entire existence of Major League Soccer. So now what?

"That's a good question," he said.

Pope announced in June that this would be his last season, which will end quietly on Saturday when Real Salt Lake visits Colorado.

Pope has had several months to reflect and think about what he wants to do next, but so far hasn't come up with an answer.

There's no rush. Pope finally has some time to relax and enjoy more time with his 4-year-old son, Emilio, and wife, Corina.

He's leaning toward staying in MLS in some capacity, perhaps in a front office job. With his credentials and experience, somebody will be offering.

"He's somebody that our organisation and every organisation would want to keep involved," said Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis, who has known Pope as an opponent, teammate and this season as one of his players.

Kreis, who retired as a player to become RSL's coach in May, said he would love to have Pope back for one more season as the three-year-old club tries to develop some success.

"I tried my best to get him to stay. He's the best defender this league has ever produced," Kreis said.

But Pope, who will turn 34 on Christmas Eve, knew early this season that this was the end.

He retired from the national team last summer after 11 years of international soccer, including the 1996 Olympics and the World Cup in 1998, 2002 and 2006.

Pope played in nine World Cup matches and 31 qualifiers for the US team.

Former national team coach Bruce Arena said Pope was probably the best defender to come from the United States.

With that kind of talent, Pope could have gone and played in Europe where the game is the biggest sport there is.

But the rock star treatment wasn't much of a draw for the quiet and composed Pope, who leaves the spotlight to his teammates.

Pope had offers from European clubs, but thought he'd get more playing time if he stayed home.

The choice was sit on the bench in front of a raucous European crowd or play in relative obscurity in the latest attempt to establish a professional soccer league in the United States.

So while juggling classes at the University of North Carolina, where he started every game of his college career, Pope joined DC United in the brand-new MLS and played with the US team in the Atlanta Olympics.

The rookie defender ended that season with a goal in the 96th minute against Los Angeles to clinch the first MLS title.

Defenders don't score a lot of goals, let alone game winners in a title game, and that will always be one of Pope's fondest memories.

But more than that, Pope will always remember the US team's run to the quarterfinals in the 2002 World Cup.

"I think we gained a lot of respect. I think that's the most important thing, starting to gain respect. And from that, that obviously allowed some guys to go to Europe and started to put a lot of eyes on our league and on our national team, " said Pope.