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SALT LAKE CITY -- Often celebrated as the best defender the United States has ever produced, Eddie Pope announced Thursday that he will retire from Major League Soccer at the end of the 2007 season.


I''m not sure what to say. I have to admit to being a little sad, and I'm not sure I can quite capture my emotions fully in this post. But the Pontiff is retiring. Definitely the end of an era.


Pope was the shy kid out of North Carolina who wore #23 in honor of fellow alum Michael Jordan. He was the rookie of the year and stand-out defender on a team full of more experienced and well-known players. Of course, he scored the header in stoppage time that won DC the first of their now four MLS Cup championships. And he famously, or at least for me memorably, turned down interest from Europe to stay close to home.


So many memories of my young adulthood are tied up with DC United and it's hard to avoid the sense that an era in my life is passing too. I'm no longer in DC, and no longer a young adult.  Pope is with Real Salt Lake (and to paraphrase ESPN's Sports Guy, "He never played for NY. Can we all agree that that just never happened?"). But I get nostalgic when my friend Neal text messages me from RFK as he did this weekend. And this news is a bit of a bolt out of the clear blue sky -- even though I'll always associate the Pontiff with the pouring rain in which he won his first two DCU championships, the second of which I was lucky enough to attend.


Okay, I'm officially babbling. Back to work, but not without one final chant of "Ooh ah! Eddie Pope! I said Ooh ah, Eddie Pope!"

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