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Soccer Crown Special for Portland

Women's team won NCAA championship with its coach, longtime British player Clive Charles, undergoing treatment for cancer.

January 19, 2003|From Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — A day after the Portland Pilots women's soccer team won the NCAA title in overtime, Coach Clive Charles joined in the joyous celebration in the small Catholic school's student union.

And the next day he had another chemotherapy treatment.

"Every week, they put in an IV and away you go," he said. "You lay there for a couple of hours and they pump poison into your body."

There is one good thing -- and only one good thing, he emphasizes -- about the treatments.

"So far," he said, "I'm still here."

Charles achieved the ultimate goal of a 16-year career as a college soccer coach when the eighth-seeded Pilots downed powerhouse Santa Clara, 2-1, in double overtime last month to claim the College Cup.

But his battle with his health continued.

Charles, 51, has fought prostate cancer for nearly two years, all while coaching both the men's and women's teams at Portland. He undergoes weekly chemotherapy treatments to keep the cancer, which is in remission, at bay.

His form of cancer, he said, is treatable but not curable. Chemotherapy has thinned his once-full head of hair and he now sits during practices, watching from a chair perched on the edge of the field.

"In terms of actual coaching, I can't demonstrate as much as I did before. But you really don't need to do a lot of that at this level." he said. "I don't run laps with them anymore. But physically, the hardest thing is going through the chemo."

Charles began playing when he was just a teenager in his native England for West Ham United. His pro career as a defender spanned 17 years, including stints with the North American Soccer League's Portland Timbers and Pittsburgh Spirit. It ended in 1982 with the Los Angeles Lazers of the Major Indoor Soccer League.

Charles joined the University of Portland, a school with a student body of about 3,000, in 1986 as coach of the men's soccer team. He added the women to his duties in 1989.

The affable Englishman has come close to winning a national title before, but the College Cup remained just out of reach.

Two years ago, the Pilots lost, 1-0, to UCLA in the semifinals. In 1996, Portland went 21-0 before losing to Notre Dame, 3-2, in the Final Four.

In 1995, a year he took both his teams to the Final Four, the women made it to the championship game but lost to Notre Dame. The men were ousted in the semifinals by Wisconsin.

After they finally captured the national title in December, the Pilots' history of near-misses prompted Santa Clara midfielder Aly Wagner to offer her praise -- even in light of the Broncos' loss.

"I am glad it was Portland. Of course, we wanted to win, but you can't take anything away from them," he said. "This has been long overdue for them."

The Pilots certainly made it exciting.

In the second overtime, a collision forced goalkeeper Lauren Arase out of the game with a concussion. Charles put in freshman Kim Head, who had played 25 minutes and faced one shot all season, and the Pilots won on Christine Sinclair's game-winning goal.

Charles, who speaks with a soft English accent, knew this squad was special.

"At the beginning of every season you hope you're going to do well," he said. "It was probably halfway through the season when I knew we had a special group and we could do really well."

Charles has coached some of the best, including U.S. women's national team veterans and 1999 World Cup champions Tiffeny Milbrett and Shannon MacMillan.

"He is somebody who gets it," said Milbrett, who also plays for the WUSA's New York Power. "It's hard to explain. It's his ability as a coach but it's more than that too. It's his ability as a human being, and his love and acceptance of everyone. He gets the bigger picture."

Two years ago, three weeks before he took the U.S. Men's Olympic team to Australia, Charles found out he had cancer.

"I didn't tell anyone because I didn't want to go to the Olympics as a coach that had cancer," he said. "I wanted to go as any other coach."

He finally decided to let his friends and players know, because "it would become obvious soon enough."

Milbrett was among the first friends he told during a tearful meeting.

"It's not just that he's sick, it's also the reality that he's not going to be around forever," she said. "It's hard. It makes you want to see him seven times a day rather than just seven times a year. You want to give back some of what he has given you."

Charles isn't maudlin about his current condition, but he is realistic.

"What I have, they can't cure. Let's just put it that way," he said to describe his prognosis. What keeps him going, he said, is a love for the game and his players.

"I'm a teacher, basically. We don't look at our program in terms of the national championship," he said.

"We want to take good players and make them better. But above that, we want them to be good people."

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