MLS: RSL sends Pope out with a win

By By Jon Gilbert

By Jon Gilbert

Two clubs’ seasons, one club’s reign and a legend’s career came to an end Saturday in Colorado.

Real Salt Lake defeated the Colorado Rapids 1-0 in the final match of Eddie Pope’s career, eliminating the Rapids from the playoffs.

The victory also secured RSL the Rocky Mountain Cup for the first time in the three-year rivalry.

“I couldn’t go out a better way, to win that trophy,” Pope said. “It’s a good feeling. Everyone worked hard all season long to battle this team, and to go out and win like this is awesome.”

RSL Forward Robbie Findley scored the game-winning goal in the 87th minute to claim the franchise’s its first trophy.

Findley burst past the Rapids’ defense to catch Carey Talley’s through pass. He met Rapid keeper Bouna Coundoul at the ball but managed to tap his shot past him for the go-ahead score. The goal also left Findley with the team’s Golden Boot Award for the season with his six goals.

“Findley has been deadly all season long,” Pope said.

RSL head coach Jason Kreis knew goals would be hard to come by in a heated defensive battle.

“I told (Findley) he was going to get maybe one good chance to score, and he did,” Kreis said.

Nick Rimando came through late for Real. The 89th minute saw the RSL keeper turn away Omar Cummings’ cross, only to recover, sprawl and turn away Tony Sanneh as well. Rimando, named Real’s Most Valuable Player before the Oct. 15 showdown with Houston, ended the night with six saves in his seventh shutout of this year.

Colorado had a chance to reach the playoffs with a victory and some help. That didn’t matter as the Rapids failed to trump Real and will miss the playoffs for the first time in six years.

“I always thought I had a long time to win a championship, but here I am 10 years later and I still haven’t won one,” Rapid veteran Pablo Mastroeni said. “Careers go by fast. You have to take the moment while it’s there, and tonight, it was there, and it slipped by.”

Once a champion, now playing for a struggling club, Pope is walking off the field a legend.

Pope is an 11-time All-Star and has won three MLS Cup Championships with D.C. United between 1996 and 1999. Pope also enjoyed an 11-year stint with the U.S. National team on which he established himself as possibly the greatest defender in American soccer history.

Midfielder Kyle Beckerman expressed that Pope was fit enough to keep playing. However, he said, Pope could have ended his career a few years ago as a legend.

Without Pope next season, RSL will have to work to rebound from a disappointing season. The victory not only gives Real 27 points to keep it from having the worst record in the league (Toronto FC, 25 points), it also springs the club into the offseason with a good taste in its mouth.

“I think this leaves a good feeling with the guys and helps us move forward,” Kreis said.

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Maegan Burr

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