Pope added to Real defensive unit

with the possibility of this actually happening -- to a couple of the players, they've just been giddy over the fact that we've been able to actually get Eddie to be a member of our team," Ellinger said on a media conference call Tuesday. "The future definitely looks brighter for us."

One of Ellinger's previous big splashes on the transfer market, forward Clint Mathis, helped convince Pope to join him on the Wasatch Front. Pope first heard of the opportunity to move to RSL about a month ago, and after discussing the potential move with Mathis at U.S. national team training camp and doing some research of his own, Pope decided Salt Lake City was the place for him.

"The whole time, for me, Salt Lake was something I had on my radar screen," Pope said. "I didn't know if it was a possibility, but that's one of the reasons I started talking to Clint about it. He kind of pieced things together for me."

In Salt Lake City, Pope will anchor a suddenly impressive back line. RSL acquired former Fire defender Evan Whitfield at the end of December and signed Brian Dunseth two weeks ago. With Nelson Akwari, Rusty Pierce and Matt Behncke also in the mix, the RSL defense could prove formidable this year.

During Tuesday's call, Ellinger reiterated the club's goals for 2005, which include winning any trophy the club can get its hands on. Adding Pope -- a man who has seen his share of hardware in nine years in the league -- to a corps of veterans that also includes Mathis, the league's all-time leading goal-scorer in Jason Kreis and attacking midfielder Andy Williams will help the club achieve those goals, Ellinger said.

"Being an expansion team, the word that always comes to mind is 'patience,'" Ellinger said. "Our goals are no different than anybody else's, and that's to make the MLS playoffs, win the MLS Cup, win the U.S. [Open] Cup and play an attractive, attacking brand of soccer, but still be competitive defensively.

"Obviously now, with Eddie in the back, we've taken a huge step toward clearing up that one side, and putting Clint and Jason [Kreis] and Andy [Williams] up front has definitely helped our chances of playing an attacking style."

Pope readily accepted his anticipated role as a team leader. Having already reached the pinnacle of MLS competition three times -- providing the overtime game-winner for D.C. United's first championship -- Pope has grown comfortable under pressure.

"The veterans on this team, certainly are going to be the ones that need to step up and make sure things are always headed in the right direction," Pope said. "A lot lies on our shoulders."

On the eve of the opening of training camp, Ellinger said the move to obtain Pope is most likely the club's last major move of the offseason. There are some minor transactions on the horizon, however, as the league holds its supplemental draft on Friday. RSL might also sign some non-roster players that have been invited to the club's preseason camp.

Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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