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For Eskandarians, A Father-Son Game

"Very tough," said Alecko, his dark eyes widening, "but in a positive way. One of the many things my parents have given me is their honesty. If I'm doing well, they'll tell me. If I'm doing bad, they'll be the first ones to tell me. I remember in high school I scored five goals in a game and we won 5-0 and my dad said, 'You played terrible today.' I was like, 'I'm sure there was someone worse than me.' He said, 'No.' "

Oh, yes, acknowledged the father, seated in his back-room office in Eski's Sports, he was a strict father-coach. But, as he told it, he believed in his son advancing "gradually" in soccer and keeping a "humble" attitude no matter how accomplished a player he became. "When he was in high school and people came to us and said, 'Send him to England to play,' or, 'Send him to Germany,' I didn't feel that way. I wanted him to stay in the family."

Alecko, 22, has a head for the game. "Alecko is always in the right spot to score," says Hubert Birkenmeier. (Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)

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Anna called to her husband from out in the store. High up in one corner of the room, near the shirts and shoes and opposite an oil painting she made of him in his No. 2 Cosmos uniform, is a TV. Fox Sports World was coming on with MLS highlights, specifically the United-New England game. Even though he already had watched his own complete tape of the game, Andranik stood next to Anna, enjoying their son's exquisite goal one more time. She, too, thrives on soccer, and Alecko sometimes calls her "Coach."

"They thought he was going to cross," she said, meaning that the defenders appeared to be looking for him to pass the ball.

"Ah, but you could see it in his face," said Andranik, noting that Alecko had looked toward the goal with his eyes while not moving his head.

Moments later, she stepped toward the TV and pointed up to a player breaking free in front of the net. Sounding much like a coach, she said: "There was no defender. No one was covering."

Andranik laughed at her frustration over the play.

At length, United's players were shown celebrating the victory after penalty kicks. "That was a nice moment," she said with a smile.

Ironically, Andranik experienced a similar feeling at RFK in 1980, when the NASL held its title game there and the Cosmos won.

"So I was back there watching my son, and it was a beautiful feeling for me," he said. "After 24 years, Alecko was holding that cup there. For me, it's a blessing."

Season of Change

Eskandarian's two seasons with United could not have been more different.

In last year's opener, he suffered a concussion when he was knocked to the ground and landed headfirst. In this year's opener, he scored in a 2-1 victory over San Jose.

Last season, he wasn't given much of a chance. This season, he was slowed by hamstring problems after the opener and found himself back on the bench, fearing more frustration. But on June 19, 2 1/2 months into the season and with the team struggling, he was given a start based on his hard work at practice and the team's obvious need for a change. He scored two goals as United beat Columbus, 3-1.

Veteran midfielder Ben Olsen put it this way: "It's easy to say now after he's had this year, but I saw some stuff from this kid in college, the goals he scored, his size, his width, his speed, his pace, his strikes on goal, he's got the whole package. We saw it in practice a lot the year before. We knew that once this kid got hot, he was going to be okay."

At forward, he has been perfectly paired with veteran Jaime Moreno, who led the team in points (28) and the entire league in assists (14) during the regular season. "When you're on the same page, it makes everything easier," Moreno said. "That's how we've felt, that we can go at the defenders and we can score."

Eskandarian, as his father would have it, sounded grateful to be playing.

"The coaches gave me the opportunity to start against Columbus," he said. "After that, the guys on the team kind of began looking at me like, all right, you're going to be a goal scorer, we're going to count on you every game to try to make something happen. That's the role I wanted."

It will be his role today. A score of relatives who have settled in California will be in the stands rooting for him, although the dean of the family will have to watch on television at his home in nearby Glendale, his health preventing him from going to the stadium. That would be Andranik's father, Galoost. Alecko would like to win the MLS Cup for him. He is 92.

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