Real Salt Lake at
REDLANDS, Calif. - Eddie Pope surprised his Real Salt Lake teammates when he appeared at the team's preseason practice Monday morning at the University of Redlands.
It was thought Pope would train with and play for the United States national team, in a critical stretch of Wolrd Cup qualifying play, until RSL's opener in New York on April 2. But a groin injury kept him from joining the national team until it was too late.
"He had a few weeks off and didn't get in the altitude training," RSL coach John Ellinger. "I can't speak for [U.S. coach] Bruce [Arena], but it's possible he thought Eddie would be behind in his conditioning. It's good for us.''
The U.S. team has been training in Colorado Springs, Colo., in advance of a game in Mexico City (elevation 7,400 feet) on Sunday. RSL striker Clint Mathis is currently with the national team.
Pope participated in all of RSL's drills Monday, including a 30-minute scrimmage at the end of practice. Roughly 25 onlookers at Redlands' Farquhar Field followed him closely.
Team captain Jason Kreis said Ellinger told him Sunday that Pope would be joining the team the next day.
"We're a much better team when Eddie is here,'' Kreis said.
The 31-year old Pope is one of the country's oldest and most experienced players. He has scored five goals for the U.S. as a defender and was a team captain in 2004. He has three MLS Cup titles with DC United. Pope played for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars in 2004, the team RSL will face in its season opener.
In addition to Mathis, two other players will not join Real Salt Lake until the season-opener. Forward Dipsy Selolwane (Botswana) and Marlon Rojas (Trinidad) are playing for their respective national teams.
Real Salt Lake entered its final full week of the preseason Monday - the team was first assembled two months ago in Florida, where it exceeded expectations with a 4-1-1 exhibition record. RSL then traveled to Spain and Portugal for a three-game series before arriving in California.
"In Florida, we were there to try to get some positive results,'' Ellinger said. "Then, in Portugal, we didn't do as well, but we really came together as a team."
While using Redlands as its home base, RSL played Chivas USA and the Colorado Rapids both to ties.
Short and sweet
Ellinger kept practice under two hours Monday and plans to do so for the remainder of the week, so he doesn't overextend his team before the nine-month season begins.
"You never want to leave your legs on the training field,'' Kreis said.
Real Salt Lake (5-2-4) will play its final preseason game Friday, in Tulsa, Okla., against the Kansas City Wizards. The team will then return to Salt Lake where it will continue to prepare for the season-opener.