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Op-Ed \ Chuck Zsolnai

Brazilian Vasco da Gama discovers soccer in America is a new world.

By Chuck Zsolnai
Special to SoccerTimes

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Saturday, December 5, 1998) -- Vasco da Gama the Portuguese explorer discovered many things in the New World. However Vasco da Gama, the Brazilian soccer club, discovered a new club in a world of many things. From the land of the cowboy, America’s team -- Washington’s D.C. United -- reflected the further progress of the game in the United States by capturing the InterAmerican Cup.

The first question World Cup defender Eddie Pope fielded after the match was by Univision’s Andreas Cantor: "Have you ever thought of playing forward?"

Pope could smile and laugh after his 77th minute goal gave the InterAmerican Cup title to the CONCACAF Champions Cup holder. United defeated Vasco 2-0 (2-1 on aggregate after Vasco’s 1-0 victory in Washington November 14) in the second leg tonight at Lockhart Stadium.

The American club dominated the first 20 minutes, hardly giving the South American club a peek at goal. Goalkeeper Scott Garlick, the only change from the first leg, helped anchor the defense with Pope, Carlos Llamosa and veteran Jeff Agoos.

Unfettered and courageous play by midfielders Richie Williams and Ben Olsen stifled young Brazilian hopefuls Felipe and Juninho. Felipe, the scorer of Vasco’s goal in the first leg and Juninho the goal-getter in a 2-1 loss in the World Cub Cup against Spain’s Real Madrid in Tokyo on Monday, could do little against the tireless Americans.

Even a luckless night by Roy Lassiter was offset by the passion in the efforts of D.C.'s Bolivian pair of Marco Etcheverry and Jamie Moreno. An early one on one by Lassiter was saved Vasco keeper Carlos Germano. That set the tone for a series of miscues by the American forward, including whiffing on a volley in the penalty box. However, Lassiter made amends in creating the first goal with a "dummy" run over Agoos’ pass which Tony Sanneh slotted home on the far post. He also had an assist on the second goal which finally took the wind out of Vasco’s sails.

Amongst the 7,000 spectators was Thomas Rongen who watched Bruce Arena’s final match in charge of the Champions. When asked about his plans as the new coach of D.C. United he replied, "Like the Americans say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it."

As Arena continues his career as the U.S. national team coach, he can walk away from United having filled its trophy case. By winning this title, D.C. United earns the distinction of beating Brazilian clubs to an InterAmerican Cup victory. None had won it before and they are far behind Argentinean clubs who have won it a record seven times.

Vasco da Gama, a club established in the 1920’s, has had a difficult time in recent years, while United has garnered five trophies in its three-year existence. At the end of a long season and a long night, John Harkes -- the most decorated of American soccer players -- was still awed by the win. A few chairs down from him, captain Marco Etcheverry basked in his game jersey, often pointing to the embroidered words on the shirt -- "InterAmerican Cup" -- and just smiling as if he had discovered a new world.

Chuck Zsolnai works at the International Soccer Archives and can be e-mailed at LYVRPL@aol.com.

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