The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Pope Looks to Strengthen League, Charity With World Cup Success

But unlike most of those 1.5 billion people, Pope was in the Far East just 12 days ago as a part of the U.S. National Team's run to the World Cup quarterfinals, the team's best showing in 72 years.

While "exciting" was the one word Pope chose to describe the team's performance, others might choose surprising as a more appropriate term.

"I think the only time I was surprised was maybe how quickly we jumped on Portugal," Pope said, referring to the June 5 match with the fifth-ranked team in the world. "I knew we could play that well."

The U.S. won the match 3-2.

Pope was an All-American defender at UNC from 1993-96, where he played with fellow World Cup teammate Gregg Berhalter, also an All-American. Pope and Berhalter anchored the U.S. defense in its final two World Cup games.

Pope would like to use the team's World Cup success as a springboard toward strengthening Major League Soccer and creating more awareness for his charity.

MLS, in its sixth season, is not on the same level of play as other leagues throughout the world, such as the English Premiership, but the performances of players like Pope have bolstered MLS' viability.

With strong showings on the sport's largest stage, U.S. players are offered the opportunity to play in the more competitive leagues. Following the U.S. team's abysmal performance at the 1998 World Cup, Pope had several opportunities to go to Europe but declined, saying the time wasn't right.

"I think young players can develop here," he said. "I think we showed that."

Pope plays club ball for D.C. United. But while he was a student at UNC, he was not sure of his soccer future.

Prior to MLS' inaugural season in 1996, playing professional soccer was "a distant possibility," Pope said. Had the league not been formed, Pope said he likely would have attended law school.

Fortunately for him, and soccer fans, Pope had a league to play in and has established name for himself.

In MLS Cup '96, Pope scored a Golden Goal to give D.C. its first of three straight MLS Cup titles, and he has built a reputation as a world-class defender.

As soccer's position in the American sports landscape is debatable, Pope admitted that it is frustrating that soccer is not as popular in the United States as it is in other parts of the world.

"In other countries, it's such a big deal," Pope said. "It's their life. Here, it hasn't really had that effect on people."

Away from the pitch, Pope enjoys time with his 1-year-old baby, "which is fine with me," he said, and his charity, The Eddie Pope Foundation.

The foundation began in 1997 as the Eddie Pope Community Soccer League in Washington, D.C., as a way to offer soccer to inner-city youths who normally would not be able to play.

"I was the only black kid on the team," Pope said. "This sport just does not reach the inner city. My goal is not to breed professional soccer players, but to give kids an option."

The league has grown into the Eddie Pope Foundation, which operates leagues in High Point (Pope's hometown), New Bern and Washington, D.C.

Lilian Pope, the foundation's treasurer and Pope's mother, hopes the attention focused on her son, will raise interest in the foundation and make people see it is something worthwhile.

"We're hoping it'll have a lot of impact on soccer, period," she said.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

Pope said he doesn't know if he'll be around for World Cup 2006 -- if the United States qualifies and he's on the team. He'll be 33, about the age where players begin to step away from international competition.

Pope will continue to play with D.C. as it seeks its fourth MLS Cup. He will rejoin the team Thursday, as United hosts the Kansas City Wizards.

The Sports Editor can be reached at