Looking back: Carlos Llamosa
Carlos Llamosa is Major League Soccer's embodiment of the American Dream.
When he took the field as a late defensive substitute in the United States' stunning upset of Portugal in the 2002 World Cup, it was the crowning moment of the Colombian-born defender's career, which might never have happened had he not been hungry nine years earlier.
In 1991, the 22-year old Llamosa left Colombia for the United States to join his family. He was working as a janitor in the World Trade Center on February 23, 1993, when terrorists unsuccessfully attempted to blow up the buildings. Luckily, Llamosa was on his lunch break at the time, but returned to find that his company's office in the basement had been destroyed in the blast.
While keeping his day job, Llamosa, who had played for three clubs in five years in Colombia, resumed his soccer career in 1995 with local semi-pro teams. An All-Star with the A-League New York Fever, he caught the eye of then-D.C. United coach Bruce Arena, who selected Llamosa in the first round of the 1997 Supplemental Draft.
Llamosa and Pope quickly formed a solid partnership, and United successfully defended their championship in 1997, and appeared in the next two MLS Cups, winning again in 1999.
For four years, they routinely thwarted the League's best offenses. Pope's speed and athleticism were perfectly complemented by Llamosa's tactical acuity, man-marking and bone-crunching slide tackles.
A "stay-at-home" defender, the unflappable Llamosa quickly gained a reputation as the best man-marker in MLS. There was never a need to worry when a striker was open in the area because you knew he would make a perfectly timed, to kill the attack.
This was never more the case than in Game 2 of the 1998 InterAmerican Cup between United and South American champions Vasco da Gama. Despite the superior collective skill of the Brazilians, Llamosa rendered Luizao useless to the point where he was substituted at halftime. His replacement, Guilherme, didn't fare any better, and neither of them had a good look at goal all game.
On Oct. 23, 1998, Llamosa became a naturalized American citizen, and got his first cap for the U.S. national team two weeks later in Arena's first game as coach against Australia. It was an inauspicious debut, as Llamosa was sent off in the closing seconds of the match, but he would earn 30 caps in his career, including a standout performance in a World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica in Columbus on Oct. 11, 2000.
Although Llamosa rarely ventured across midfield, his aerial prowess occasionally served United well on set pieces. He scored his first MLS goal for United in the 1999 season opener against the Tampa Bay Mutiny. In 2000, he scored three more goals, two during league play and another during a friendly against Newcastle United of the English Premier League.
On Feb. 3, 2001, D.C. United, looking to alleviate salary cap problems, traded Llamosa to the Miami Fusion for defender/midfielder Brian Kamler and the fourth overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft, which was used two days later to select Ryan Nelsen.
Llamosa would continue his career with distinction. His presence on the Fusion backline solidified their defense, and the Fusion came within one game of the MLS Cup. When the Fusion were folded following the 2001 season, Llamosa was picked up by the New England Revolution, and he would reach his fourth MLS Cup appearance in six years.
But Llamosa's physical style of play led to many injuries throughout his career. Between injuries and national team duty, he averaged only 20 games a season. As he aged, they caught up with him. An anterior cruciate ligament tear caused him to miss the entire 2004 season, and complications during his recovery led to the Revolution choosing not to renew his option for the 2005 season. United offered the 35-year old Llamosa a tryout upon his release, but declined to offer him a contract.
Carlos Llamosa's last appearances in a D.C. United shirt were as a guest player in the Unity Games, two matches against the MetroStars to benefit the Soccer United Relief Fund, which was created to assist families and victims of the attacks of September 11, 2001. In the 87th minute of the first game, played at Giants Stadium, MetroStars midfielder Petter Villegas was whistled for a handball in the box. Fittingly, Llamosa was given the honor of taking the penalty kick, which he converted to tie the game at 2-2.
David Lifton is a contributor to dcunited.com. He is a member of the Screaming Eagles and longtime supporter of D.C. United.