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Agoos, Pope Grow From U.S. Team Experience

By Bryan Tucker
Washingtonpost.com Correspondent
Web Posted: Friday, Juy 3, 1998; 4:30 p.m. EDT



Defending two-time MLS champions D.C. United got a lift Thursday night with the return of defenders Eddie Pope and Jeff Agoos from a World Cup experience that affected both players in differing ways.

"The addition of Agoos and Pope makes a tremendous difference on our team and makes me a better coach," Coach Bruce Arena said after United beat the Miami Fusion, 3-1. "The experience and ability of those players is obvious."

No one questions the ability of either Pope or Agoos, who, after all, are among the country's 22 best players and chosen for the U.S. team. While Pope's experience in France was mostly positive, Agoos was frustrated by a lack of playing time. Pope played in two of the three U.S. games in the World Cup, marking Germany's deadly striker Oliver Bierhoff and Iran's Ali Daei, holding both scoreless.

"I think [confidence] naturally increases," said Pope, who was proclaimed the defender of U.S. soccer in an adidas ad. "If you play against a great forward, and you feel like you held your own it increases [your confidence]. I think that is important for the next World Cup or the next big game."

The 24-year-old defender feels that the World Cup experience was good for a lot of the young players on the U.S. team.

"We have a lot of young guys stepping up and all of us are going to develop and get better as time goes on, along with whomever the veterans are," Pope said. "I think [U.S. soccer] is going to be great."

Pope and Agoos missed eight games while in France, and they hope to make D.C. United's defense solid again after it had given up 10 goals in the team's past three games. On Thursday, Agoos and Pope looked as though they never left, helping D.C. United limit Miami to seven shots for the game.

Pope had a steady game. He seemingly won every ball in the air and was key for keeping possession in the D.C. United attack. Agoos, on the other hand, had a rough go of it — at least in the first half.

He was fouled hard the first two times he touched the ball and went down to the ground with 13:25 remaining in the first half after getting hit in the midsection with a blast by Fusion midfielder Pablo Mastroeni. Ten minutes later, Agoos was hit in the head by Miami midfielder Diego Serna's elbow as both were going up for a header.

However, Agoos was happy to go through a little pain to finally get back on the pitch and play because he did not play at all in France. "It was great, it was fun and it was a lot of work," said Agoos of Thursday's victory over Miami. "I just enjoyed every minute of it."

Agoos's position (left wingback or left back) in the infamous 3-6-1 used by Coach Steve Sampson was "sort of obsolete," according to the 30-year-old defender.

"I was sort of out of it and there was really nothing left," Agoos said. "Except a marking back or an outside midfielder and I felt I could do the job but [Sampson] wanted to go with someone else."

The former Virginia player was one of the many who made critical comments after the Americans lost 1-0 to Yugoslavia in their final game. He said his World Cup experience was one of the most difficult times he has had as a professional soccer player since he was one of the last cuts from the U.S. national team before the 1994 World Cup.

"Coming home was pretty positive." Agoos said. "France was great, but overall it was not a real positive experience."

Despite what happened there, D.C. United is happy Pope and Agoos are back for the second half of the season.

Arena said, "We've been operating in a chaotic manner over the last month and they [Pope and Agoos] are back in time ... that's for sure."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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