Dec 24, 2012, 6:00 PM EST
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.
Mar 8, 2014, 12:10 PM EST
Other sides fighting the drop will be thrilled that Stoke and Norwich split the points available at Carrow Road.
Mar 8, 2014, 12:05 PM EST
Massive London derby at the Bridge, can Chelsea extend their lead at the top? Watch live, here:
Mar 8, 2014, 12:04 PM EST
Fulham remain dead last in the league after losing to fellow strugglers Cardiff – who themselves aren’t yet out of the woods.
Mar 8, 2014, 12:03 PM EST
Saints seal hard-fought win, as Eagles continue to battle at the wrong end of the table:
Mar 8, 2014, 11:32 AM EST
Moyes’ offense clicks as United turn on the style against the Baggies:
Mar 8, 2014, 9:42 AM EST
West Brom are in real danger of being relegated after losing to Manchester United at the Hawthorns.
Mar 8, 2014, 9:38 AM EST
Gunners seals FA Cup semi spot for first time since 2009:
Mar 8, 2014, 9:30 AM EST
Both Cardiff and Fulham are in desperate need of all three points – but will either manage to claim victory?
Mar 8, 2014, 9:25 AM EST
Is it a relegation dogfight or simple pursuit of safety? Check out Norwich – Stoke and decide for yourself.
Mar 8, 2014, 9:20 AM EST
Can the Eagles seal a big win to climb clear of the bottom three? Will Saints get back on track? Watch live, here:
Mar 8, 2014, 7:53 AM EST
Since his appointment as Tottenham manager, Tim Sherwood has elevated the side from seventh into fifth. But how much praise does he truly deserve?
Mar 8, 2014, 7:12 AM EST
Find out how to watch every single PL game live online of via the app:
Mar 8, 2014, 7:03 AM EST
West Brom are becoming masters of the late draw. Will they be able to catch United unawares?
Mar 7, 2014, 10:40 PM EST
Tony Fernandes is in hot water following his massive spending in attempts to keep QPR in the Premier League.
Mar 7, 2014, 9:44 PM EST
In a sports world full of “business decisions” Bolton has clung to the human component of Stuart Holden, remaining strongly supportive of their player despite the sad fact he could be facing his fourth torn ACL.
Mar 7, 2014, 9:16 PM EST
Following the USMNT loss to Ukraine, club action continues in Europe.
Mar 7, 2014, 8:08 PM EST
Away goals now rule playoff matchups, and tiebreaker rules for playoff spots have changed priorities.
Mar 7, 2014, 7:28 PM EST
Looking for yet another reset button, Clint Dempsey will indeed begin the 2014 MLS season with Seattle’s matchday squad.
Mar 7, 2014, 6:34 PM EST
After incidents last weekend, Brek Shea and his teammate have both apologized to fans after lashing out at abusive supporters.
Mar 7, 2014, 5:57 PM EST
PST’s experts weigh in and predict the MLS Cup champs and the final standings:
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- WATCH: Premier League live on NBC Sports Live Extra – Week 29 0
- Americans Abroad Preview: European-based Americans back in action 0
- PST writers predict the 2014 Major League Soccer standings, do you agree? 3
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