February 26, 2013
20 YEARS AFTER
Cosmos assistant coach Llamosa counts his blessings, recounts how he survived WTC bombing
By Michael Lewis
|Carlos Llamosa: "For me it was like another opportunity. I've tried to live every day of my life, every minute of my life with my family. That moment changed my life. It was going to be different."
Photo courtesy of the New York Cosmos
No one has to remind Carlos Llamosa how precious life is. He always knew that, but he was reminded of how much humans take things for granted two decades ago.
The New York Cosmos assistant coach could have died in the first terrorist bombing at the World Trade Center.
"For me it was like another opportunity," he said. "I've tried to live every day of my life, every minute of my life with my family. That moment changed my life. It was going to be different."
Llamosa, 43, has tried to live life to the fullest, first as a player with several MLS teams and the U.S. National Team, an assistant coach with Chivas USA and as a family man.
Twenty years ago on Tuesday, Llamosa certainly will never forget the events that impacted his life and changed the lives of many others in Manhattan.
He knows that if he did not go out to eat some Chinese food for lunch, he would not be around today.
On Friday, Feb. 26, 1993, terrorists tried to take down the World Trade Center. They detonated a bomb underneath the North Tower, hoping that it would kill thousands. It did not, but six people died and more than one thousand were injured.
Llamosa, who was playing his soccer with the Brooklyn Italians at the time, toiled as a janitor at the World Trade Center and he could have been a victim because his company's locker area was near to where the bomb went off in the basement.
"It was lucky we were not in the building," he said.
Lucky for Llamosa he got an hour lunch break on Fridays instead of of his usual half hour. So, he and his colleagues went out to a downtown Chinese restaurant.
"Monday through Thursday, most of the people there were in the building," he said. "On Fridays, everybody was out for lunch."
During lunch, Llamosa and his colleagues heard an explosion.
"The first thing I heard was that one of the trains underneath the building crashed," he said. "We tried to get back to the building, but we couldn't do it."
Llamosa went home, where he learned what transpired on TV.
"I was in shock," he said. "I would never thought somebody would attack the World Trade Center, especially with all the security they had. I was in shock. the building was under attack, terrorist attack."
The Colombian native went back to work at the World Trade Center, a job he would have until 1997, when he signed with D.C. United in MLS. It was there his soccer career really took off, becoming one of the top defenders in the league an earning a spot on the U.S. National Team. Llamosa, who also played for the Miami Fusion, New England Revolution and Chivas USA, made 29 international appearances and was a key factor in the Americans' march to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals.
In 1991, a 22-year-old Llamosa came to the United States from Barranquilla, Colombia not to pursue a professional soccer career, but to get an education.
"When I came here, I started to play in local leagues," Llamosa said. "I tried to go to college, but it was kind of expensive for me. I tried to get a scholarship, but I was too old for a scholarship. i was 22 in 1991. I had to work and play. The first thing was to go to college."
But Llamosa made an impression starring for Brooklyn and eventually was signed to a professional contract by the New York Centaurs in the old A-League. It wasn't enough to pay the bills year round, so he kept his day job at the World Trade Center.
Llamosa played with the New York Fever in 1996 before signing on with United the next year. He admitted his U.S. soccer career even surprised him. He made making 19 appearances and playing in the 2002 World Cup, when the U.S. reached the quarterfinals. Germany managed to eke out a 1-0 win, although history would have been changed had it not been for a handball game officials did not call or see.
"I never thought I would be playing professional soccer, not even for the National Team," he said. "It's funny that before I came to the United States in '91, one of my friends back in Colombia told me everybody knew that '94 was the World Cup. 'Oh you are going to the States, so I'll probably going to see you play with the U.S. team for the World Cup.' I didn't even pay any attention to that. That was happening in '94. It never crossed my mind to be playing with the U.S. team."
It probably never crossed the mind of Llamosa or many other Americans that terrorists would try again to attack the WTC.
But 8 1/2 years after the first World Trade Center bombing terrorists took down the North and South towers. As it turns out, Llamosa was living in Miami at the time and was supposed to travel to New York along with his Fusion teammates on Sept. 11, 2001 to play against the MetroStars at Giants Stadium.
"It was kind of weird because for whatever reasons that day I was tied to New York," he said. "We were going to New York that day in the morning."
One of his car lights was out, so Llamosa took it to a car repair shop the morning of the flight.
He was sitting in the waiting room when one of the shop workers turned on the TV; a small plane had crashed into the Empire State Building.
Llamosa turned on the TV and instead saw one of the towers smoldering.
"When I heard the news that it was a terrorist attack, I was shocked," he said. "I was worried because I have a sister who works in downtown Manhattan close to the World Trade Center.
Llamosa tried to call his family in New York, but his cell phone didn't work.
"I was worried," he said. "The night before I talked to my mother and told her I was going to New York. So when they heard the news about me in Colombia, they were worried about me as well."
He later discovered that the Fusion's flight to New Jersey was cancelled because all planes in the United States were ordered from the sky.
"I was in pain. I was in shock as a human being," he said. 'As a person who used to work in those buildings, I was in pain. I cried that day. That was a sad day.
"That was my wife's birthday. 9-11," he said. "So we're going to remember that day forever."
Life went on. Air travel returned and so did World Cup qualifying as Llamosa and the U.S. reached the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. Germany managed to eke out a 1-0 win in South Korea, although history would have been changed had it not been for a handball game officials did not call or see.
Llamosa called that World Cup "my career highlight, not only or me, but also for my family."
"Being a part of that team, not only for the World Cup, but for the years I spent with that group of players," he added. "It was the best thing to happen in my career. We had a great run there."
Had Carlos Llamosa not taken a long lunch break on Feb 26, 1993, he might not have had an opportunity to make that great run and have a life with his wife and children.
"I was lucky, my co-workers were lucky," he said. "It was lucky we were not in the building."