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.
"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."