Tuesday, November 16, 2004

CARSON, Calif. — As he approached the dais for Sunday’s post-game news conference, Alecko Eskandarian was a picture of unrestrained joy.

An unlit cigar dangled between teeth exposed by a broad smile. A black cap that read “MLS Cup 2004 Champions” sat firmly on his head.

“You don’t have champagne, just Sierra Mist?” Eskandarian asked teasingly to nobody in particular when he saw cans of lemon-lime soda on the table. “I’d better get some champagne.”

Eskandarian could afford to be jovial. His two goals gave D.C. United the Major League Soccer championship with a 3-2 victory over the Kansas City Wizards, and enabled him to be voted the game’s MVP.

“I’m on top of the world, man,” he said in United’s ecstatic clubhouse. “I never really won anything like this ever in my life. It just feels unreal.”

The forward’s role in United’s championship effort culminated a season of personal redemption in the wake of a frustrating rookie year.

“It was a nightmare, there’s no question about it,” Eskandarian said. “What I went through last year, I hope no soccer player has to go through.”

The 22-year-old joined United with impressive credentials. In three seasons at Virginia, Eskandarian scored 50 goals. He made two All-America first teams and was named Soccer America’s college player of the year as a junior before becoming the top pick in the 2003 SuperDraft.

But as a rookie, Eskandarian had just three goals and two assists. He made only five starts in 23 appearances and took just 15 shots, as coach Ray Hudson relied on a lineup of veterans.

“I can’t really blame him for that,” Eskandarian said. “But it really ruined my season last year. I worked hard every day and I felt like I didn’t get the playing time I deserved. I made no secret about it.”

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