Kovalenko Plans to Stay Put With D.C.

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 25, 2005

As he prepared to leave the media room at RFK Stadium yesterday, D.C. United Coach Peter Nowak shouted: "Listen to me: Dema is not going anywhere!"

So much for that.

The reason for Nowak's outburst was to end speculation that the club was preparing to trade fiery midfielder Dema Kovalenko.

Officials from other MLS teams said during preseason that United had been shopping Kovalenko around the league. Talks died down as Kovalenko recovered from a broken foot, but his name reemerged in league circles last week when United and other clubs began holding general trade discussions.

Defender Mike Petke was dealt to Colorado, but, according to Nowak, Kovalenko will stay.

"It would bother anybody, but it's part of the business," Kovalenko said. "Peter said I'm staying, so that's good to know. I didn't want to go anywhere."

Kovalenko and Nowak have had their share of minor disputes over the years -- they were teammates at Chicago and were reunited last year when Nowak was named D.C. coach -- but all seems well at the moment.

"He reminds me of myself: He's very emotional, he's very competitive and maybe we get into these things sometimes because we're the same," Kovalenko said. "Sometimes I go too far and do too much, but I'm getting better at that. I told people that's one of my goals this year: I'm not going to go crazy, I just have to concentrate on the game.

"Like me or hate me, that's the way I am."

Kovalenko, who was second on the team in assists and first in ejections last year, missed preseason after breaking his foot while jogging in Ukraine. He made his first appearance earlier this month and has played in three games for a total of 22 minutes. On Sunday, Kovalenko scored the only goal of the reserve game against Kansas City.

With Clyde Simms at U.S. national team camp and Josh Gros suspended, Kovalenko might end up making his first start Saturday night against visiting Dallas.

"I think I'm ready," he said. "I felt good [playing 79 minutes in the reserve game]. I think I'm very, very close. I think I can help the team -- that's my mentality. . . . I hope they think I'm ready, too."

Commenting for the first time on the decision to trade Petke, Nowak said: "There's always going to be speculation [about] who is going, who is staying. This is business, and I'm all about business. The situation is always difficult for me, for us coaches, to let a person like Mike go. It was a very difficult decision. This is behind us right now."

Asked to name the young Argentine defender who United is pursuing to replace Petke, Nowak quipped, "Diego Maradona."

Christian Gomez, United's Argentine midfielder, said he didn't know the identity of the defensive candidate. But when told that Nowak joked about Maradona, an Argentine legend, Gomez responded, "I would be willing to play defense if we get Maradona to play up front."

On a more serious note, Gomez said: "If he's from Argentina, it will be good for me because it would be my compatriot. But it doesn't matter where he's from. We lost Mike, who was a very important part of the team, and definitely we need a defender to come in and take a position on the team."

Because of international acquisition rules, United probably won't be able to sign a foreign player until August.

United Notes: Third-string goalkeeper Andrew Terris was waived and Andrew Weber (University of New Mexico) began a tryout. . . . Midfielder Ben Olsen was given the day off and forwards Alecko Eskandarian (cold) and Jaime Moreno (promotional appearance in Florida) didn't practice. . . . United has agreed to play an exhibition against the minor league Rochester Raging Rhinos on July 11 in Cary, N.C.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company