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Maspeth’s Llamosa starring for United States at World Cup

It was the greatest moment in the history of United States soccer. And Maspeth’s Carlos Llamosa was on the field in Jeonju, Korea when the referee blew the final whistle as the U.S. national team defeated Mexico, 2-0, Monday in the second round of the World Cup.

Not bad for a former janitor at the World Trade Center.

Llamosa, a central defender who played the final three minutes of stoppage time, and the United States advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 1930 and will play three-time World Cup champion Germany, Friday at 7:30 a.m., locally.

“It feels great. I feel happy and proud to play for the U.S.,” Llamosa told the TimesLedger from his hotel room in Seoul, Korea, less than 24 hours after the historic victory. “It is still the same happiness [now], but today we know we have to start training for a tough opponent in Germany.”

It has been a whirlwind day and a half for Llamosa, who moved to Maspeth from Palmira, Colombia in 1991, and the U.S. team. Before the match against rival Mexico, only the second time the U.S. played a second-round match, the team received a phone call from President George Bush.

“The country is really proud of the team,” Bush said about four and a half hours before the match. “A lot of people that don’t know anything about soccer, like me, are all excited and pulling for you.”

“That was a great moment for the team,” Llamosa said of the phone call. “To get a call from the president is a great feeling, there was more motivation with that call. It was a lot of help.”

With starting defenders Jeff Agoos (calf injury) and Frankie Hedjuk (one-game suspension) unavailable, many believed U.S. head coach Bruce Arena would insert Llamosa into the starting lineup.

But Arena, who coached Llamosa at Major League Soccer’s D.C. United in 1997 and 1998, instead gave the nod to Gregg Berhalter and Pablo Mastroeni and switched the formation from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2.

Llamosa replaced Mastroeni two minutes into stoppage time with the U.S. comfortably ahead, 2-0.

“I’m here for the team, no matter how much I play,” Llamosa said. “I’m going to help the team if I play 90 minutes, 45 minutes or just three minutes, like I did against Mexico.”

Eleven years ago, representing the United States in the World Cup was the furthest thing from his mind. With Major League Soccer still five years away, there was no professional soccer league in America, so Llamosa did what he had to do to earn a living for his family. He found a job as a janitor at the World Trade Center.

Luckily, Llamosa was on his lunch break during the Trade Center bombing in 1993 that killed six and injured more than 1,000 others.

Llamosa, a six-year MLS veteran, having played with D.C. United — winning a pair of MLS Cups in 1997 and 1999 — the Miami Fusion and now with the New England Revolution, obtained his U.S. citizenship on Oct. 23, 1998 (he holds duel citizenship with Colombia) and represented the United States 14 days later against Australia.

Since then, he has appeared in more than 20 games for the U.S. national team, including playing 15 minutes in the shocking 3-2 win over Portugal in the team’s World Cup opener.

Half the world away, the U.S./Mexico match was the only thing many in Elmhurst could think about. But while the addresses read Elmhurst, Queens, it might as well have said Mexico City, Mexico.

On every block, on every corner, Mexican flags big and small waved in this predominantly Hispanic community early Monday morning.

However, there was a slight difference inside of a cramped fifth-floor apartment on Lamont Avenue. Yes, the television blared the Spanish-language broadcast on Univision and the nearly 20 who packed into the living room almost exclusively spoke Spanish— but not a one rooted for Mexico.

Not when many in the apartment had the last name Llamosa and were related in one way or another to Carlos Llamosa, the youngest of 11 siblings.

His sister, Rosario, her children, Claudia and Angela, and their cousin Cristian, who proudly wore a red Llamosa U.S. national team jersey, joined friends to watch the historic match.

“I was really disappointed he didn’t start because in the first game [the dramatic 3-2 upset of Portugal] he played 15 minutes,” said Llamosa’s niece Claudia, 24. “Today he only played three minutes.”

While she was disappointed, Claudia said Llamosa’s limited minutes against Mexico may have saved her fingernails, as they are the first to go when her uncle plays.

With or without her brother in the starting lineup, Rosario Llamosa was a bundle of nerves as she sat on the edge of a small couch as the United States clung to a 1-0 lead throughout much of the match.

Any time Mexico ventured into the U.S. defensive third, which was quite often, Rosario would yelp and squeal, even praying in Spanish at times.

But Rosario breathed a much-needed sigh of relief in the 65th minute when Landon Donovan headed in Eddie Lewis’ cross at the far post to put the U.S. ahead, 2-0. As an added bonus for Rosario, the camera caught Llamosa and the others on the bench mobbing Donovan following the goal.

“I felt much better after that goal,” she said. “I feel good that he plays on the national team. I’m proud of him.”

“I’m very proud to have him play for the national team,” added nephew Cristian, 19. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here watching this game.”

Maybe the proudest Llamosa in Elmhurst is Brian, 13, the youngest of Rosario Llamosa’s children. Although, because of school Monday, he was unable to watch the match.

“Sometimes the kids in his school don’t believe that he is related to Carlos,” said his sister, Claudia Llamosa. “He has to take something, some ID that proves his last name or a picture because they don’t think he is his uncle.”

While most of his family is 3,000 miles away, Llamosa does have the luxury of having his wife, Marion, and his two sons, Estevan and Andreas, stay with him in Korea.

“That is something that Bruce Arena wanted, for the players to be able to bring their families to the World Cup,” Llamosa said. “Being a soccer player is a tough career, you spend a lot of time away from your family. To have my family here to support me is great.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by email at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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