Dec 24, 2012, 6:00 PM EDT
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.
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.
May 22, 2015, 12:02 AM EDT
Firing one of the world’s elite managers, so you can hire a good-but-not-great replacement? Not smart, Real Madrid, not smart at all.
May 21, 2015, 10:57 PM EDT
According to Scholes, the solution to Man United’s goalkeeping problem is a no-brainer.
May 21, 2015, 9:47 PM EDT
Well done to Tottenham Hotspur for showing the necessary compassion and taking care of one of their own.
May 21, 2015, 8:24 PM EDT
The draw for the 4th round of the 2015 US Open Cup tossed up a couple of absolute doozies on Thursday night.
May 21, 2015, 7:23 PM EDT
Jack Grealish has a big decision to make in the not-so-distant future, and it’s going to affect the course of the rest of his career.
May 21, 2015, 5:29 PM EDT
Thierry Henry is riding Olivier Giroud very hard these days, claiming Arsenal will never win a PL title with him leading the line.
May 21, 2015, 3:25 PM EDT
Qatar isn’t the only World Cup host to make others upset.
May 21, 2015, 2:33 PM EDT
Sponsors hold the one true key to change in Qatar, and strong words are a start.
May 21, 2015, 1:50 PM EDT
Many European leagues have spots in the big dance still up for grabs.
May 21, 2015, 1:10 PM EDT
Jordon Ibe and Jon Flanagan both will stick around Anfield for a while longer.
May 21, 2015, 12:27 PM EDT
Only one candidate remains to battle Sepp Blatter, and it doesn’t look good.
May 21, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT
The man who’s been investigated by the FBI and green lit loads of allegedly corrupt ideas will continue to rule your favorite sport.
May 21, 2015, 10:41 AM EDT
The announcement is the final touch of a poorly-kept secret, and comes with the Copa del Rey and UEFA Champions League on the horizon.
May 21, 2015, 9:57 AM EDT
The Impact will be looking for their third-straight Canadian Championship, having defeated TFC and Vancouver in recent campaigns.
May 21, 2015, 9:03 AM EDT
Ward said every club in the Premier League would bid for Sterling (who has already reportedly turned down an offer worth $235,000 a week).
May 21, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
Phil Jones and Chris Smalling make it a trio of Manchester United players on the roster, while Arsenal paces all Premier League squads with four call-ups.
May 21, 2015, 7:46 AM EDT
There’s a guarantee that a fourth-tier side or lower will see the fourth round, thanks to a pair of surprise wins.
May 20, 2015, 11:10 PM EDT
Borussia Dortmund’s sporting director has said the prized defender will stay in Germany next season.
May 20, 2015, 10:01 PM EDT
A brace from Krisztian Nemeth led Sporting KC to an impressive win over a Revolution side that will leave Kansas City disappointed.
May 20, 2015, 9:03 PM EDT
With the Magpies in danger of relegation, supporters want owner Mike Ashley to sell the club.
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