MetroStars defender Eddie Pope was named the winner of the Kraft MLS Fair Play award Friday at the MLS Cup Media Luncheon. Pope beat out Chicago Fire midfielder Justin Mapp and Colorado Rapids defender Richie Kotschau for the honor.
"Any time you can win any award during the year, it's a big deal," Pope said. "For me, on a personal level it's a great thing that I was recognized by the league. Obviously I'd rather be playing in the championship game. You can throw everything else out the window."
Pope took home the 2004 MLS Fair Play hardware after another season of strong defensive play for the MetroStars, who he helped to a third-place finish in the Eastern Conference. In 22 games played this season, Pope was only whistled for 17 fouls. He also was issued a single yellow card caution, an impressive feat for one of the most feared defenders in the league. Pope led by example in his sophomore season with the Metros, wearing the captain's armband in a side that also featured Honda MLS MVP Amado Guevara.
|Past Award Winners|
|2003||Brian McBride (CLB)|
|2002||Mark Chung (COL)|
|2001||Alex Pineda Chacon (MIA)|
|2000||Steve Ralston (T.B.)|
|1999||Steve Ralston (T.B.)|
|1998||Thomas Dooley (CLB)|
|1997||Mark Chung (K.C.)|
The North Carolina native made the trek north to the Big Apple in 2003, where he immediately stepped into a leadership role in the MetroStars defense. His experience was of great importance this season, as he aided in the development of one of the league's top rookies, Jeff Parke.
Pope's skill as a defender and propensity for fair play largely are due to his impeccable timing, good balance and an ability to read the game. He is rarely put in a position where he is forced to bring down an opponent to stop an attack. Instead, he almost always seems to find a way to get a foot in or spring to the right place just in time to thwart whatever is thrown his way.
Pope was also nominated for MLS Defender of the Year, but the Columbus Crew's Robin Fraser was the recipient of that prize.
This is the second time Pope has earned one of Major League Soccer's year-end awards, as he was named the MLS Defender of the Year in 1997. He helped D.C. United with their second consecutive MLS Cup that year, a feat that has yet to be repeated.
Jonathan Nierman is a contirbutor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.