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The dreadlocks fly as he charges upfield or after an opposing forward. That hasn't changed in his two seasons with the Portland Timbers.


And the smile remains the same. So, too, the soft voice and gentle nature that is the signature of the popular 25-year-old native of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

And for Brent Sancho, his enthusiasm and love of soccer remains the same.

But inside, he is a changed man. Tragedy -- especially multiple life-changing events -- can do that.

"I've dedicated my season to the friends I lost last year," he says, trying to explain.

"It was a rough year . . . a very sad year."

Sancho used to work at the World Trade Center in New York.

"I had a lot of significant ties there because I worked at the shoe store downstairs when I was going to college at St. John's," he said, his thoughts drifting back to the mid-1990s. "School was in Queens, only about a 15-20 minute train ride away from where I worked."

That's why Sep. 11, 2001 -- "A horrifying day," Sancho said -- probably was even more horrifying because he knew people who died or survived the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

"There was one who was late to work that day because he was on the phone with his mother," Sancho said. "He was at least 20 minutes late, and he was getting out of the subway when the towers were coming down."

Two friends did not survive, however.

"They were two mates from English class," he said. "I was in disbelief."

Less than a month later, Sancho took another sledgehammer to the stomach.

He was home early in October, training with the Trinidad and Tobago national team for a World Cup qualifier with Honduras.

A teammate and close friend, Mickey Trotman, asked Sancho to accompany him to his family's home.

It was after midnight and Sancho declined, telling Trotman he was exhausted from the previous day's training.

About three hours later, Sancho was awakened at his hotel room with the news: Mickey Trotman was dead. So were two others in the car Trotman was driving to his parents' home. Two others survived but were seriously injured when the car slid out of control and slammed into a lamp post.

"Mickey was one of my closest friends," Sancho said, shaking his head. "I was with him up to three hours before his death.

One minute he was here and the next minute he was not."

Then, last month, Sancho got another numbing phone call, telling him that a cousin had just been killed in a car crash in Trinidad and Tobago.

There is something different about Sancho this season, Timbers general manager Jim Taylor said.

"It's hard to pinpoint," Taylor said. "Not that he was ever a brash personality or a bull, but you can tell something has affected him and changed him.

"I don't want to say something has made him more humble, because he's always been a fairly humble personality, but you can clearly tell the events of last year, those personal tragedies he experienced, have definitely had a toll on him. But with all that's happened, you can understand why."

Taylor paused, trying to explain why Sancho is so special to the Timbers and the community.

There's something about Brent that's very magnetic," Taylor said. "He really draws people to him. Everybody loves him. And he's one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet."

"All this," Sancho said, "makes you look at things differently. Until this, I never had anyone close to me die. Of course it has affected me. It has made me mature, and become a better person, and a better player."

On the field this season, he has played on the right side as an attacking fullback and as a defender in a three-man defense. Twice he has been named to the A-League team of the week.

Gary Glasgow, now playing with Hampton Roads of the A-League, grew up with Sancho in Trinidad and Tobago and knows Sancho's game.

"He's getting better, attacking wise, so much better," Glasgow said. "He's aggressive, and gives his all, 100 percent, every time."

Sancho might never forgive Glasgow, though, because of what happened in Portland before their teams played on June 21 at PGE Park.

Glasgow scored the winning goal in overtime as Hampton Roads beat the Timbers 3-2.

"I took him to lunch that day," Sancho said. "It must have been all that good food power that allowed him to score that goal."

Then Sancho laughed.

"We should enjoy life . . . cherish life," he said softly, "because it's a gift."