Kovalenko Granted Leave For Stoitchkov Exhibition
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 26, 2004; Page D02
Despite his team's roster problems, D.C. United midfielder Dema Kovalenko has been given permission to miss Saturday's match at New England in order to participate in an exhibition honoring former teammate Hristo Stoitchkov in Barcelona.
However, the Ukrainian-born player is still awaiting a visa to enter Spain.
Kovalenko, second on the team in points with two goals and two assists, is scheduled to leave Thursday. He would be joined at 110,000-seat Nou Camp Stadium by some of world soccer's biggest names in a tribute to Stoitchkov, the fiery Bulgarian striker who starred at Barcelona and elsewhere in Europe before finishing his career in MLS.
Kovalenko and Stoitchkov were teammates on the Chicago Fire from 2000 through 2002 and with United last year.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, something Dema will never forget," said United Coach Peter Nowak, who also was Stoitchkov's teammate at Chicago. Nowak was invited to Barcelona but will not attend; United President Kevin Payne and technical director Dave Kasper are planning to travel to Barcelona for the festivities.
"If it were any other thing, no, we wouldn't let him go," Nowak said, "but this is very special."
Kovalenko's departure would come at an inopportune time for United. All-star defender Ryan Nelsen left Sunday to play for New Zealand's national team in 2006 World Cup qualifying and will miss two MLS games. Midfielders Bobby Convey (hamstring) and Ben Olsen (quadriceps) are questionable for Saturday's match at New England after missing three and two games, respectively.
Also, forwards Santino Quaranta, Eliseo Quintanilla and Thiago Martins have not recovered from preseason injuries.
Kovalenko said he wouldn't have been upset if Nowak had decided not to allow him to attend the Stoitchkov event.
"I told Peter, it's okay if I don't go because the team comes first," said Kovalenko, a defensive midfielder who has started eight of nine games and is fifth on the team in minutes played.
"I was surprised, but he said this is a great opportunity. It's unbelievable."
United (2-4-3) has lost two in a row following a three-game unbeaten streak and is in third place in the five-team Eastern Conference.
United Notes: Freddy Adu will likely be named to the U.S. under-20 national team for a June 16 friendly against Brazil in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It will not interfere with any United games.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company