Boris Bandov has played more games as a member of the U.S. national soccer team than any other American player. But until joining Team America this season, Bandov had never held a steady job in his 10-year North American Soccer League career.
Bandov, whose 32 international appearances include World Cup qualifying matches in 1976 and 1980, earned a starting job with Team America in March and has responded by playing the best soccer of his career. His versatility has allowed him to play fullback, midfielder and left wing, and his two shootout goals helped Team America win twice.
"Boris is the kind of player every coach needs," said Team America Coach Alkis Panagoulias, whose team plays in Golden Bay tonight at 11 p.m. "He is indispensable. He is one of the most skillful American players I have ever seen."
Ironically, Panagoulias passed over Bandov when selecting his 15-man squad at Team America's tryout camp in February. Just one of eight Cosmos trying out for the team, Bandov was a victim of the three-player-per-team limit imposed by the NASL. But when Cosmos midfielder Ricky Davis quit Team America prior to the start of the season, Bandov wasn't interested in taking his place.
"Boris didn't really want to come," said Panagoulias. "He was very hesitant. I called him many times and told him we needed him. But when he went with us to Haiti and Colombia and saw the spirit of the team, he wanted to stay."
Bandov initially joined Team America as a loan player and started in its season opener against Seattle. His shootout goal helped bring Team America a 1-0 decision, but Bandov was not impressed by the game.
"We didn't play well," said Bandov. "But when I got in the locker room, I was very impressed with the heart of this team. They wanted to win badly. It was very important to them.
"With the Cosmos, winning had become automatic," Bandov continued. "Whether we won or lost, everybody was the same. But with Team America, it felt bad to lose. That was something I hadn't felt in a long time."
Bandov was formally transferred to Team America following the Seattle contest, and has started eight of its 11 games. Although Bandov's 10 years in the league are the most among active players, only four times has he played in more than 10 games in a season.
Bandov leads the league with four shootout attempts, and his two goals in the tie breakers tie him with Perry Van Der Beck and Dan Canter for the team lead. But his past association with the shootout has not always been so successful.
"I hit the corner flag once," said Bandov, referring to the yellow boundary marker 46 yards from the goal. "It was against Atlanta in 1979, and the field was very bumpy. I tried to put the ball to the outside left, but it bounced up, hit my leg, and rolled to the corner. The goalie and I both laughed about it, but the Cosmos didn't let me take any more shootouts."
Bandov, 30, moved to this country from Yugoslavia in 1967 and became a naturalized citizen. He came into the NASL in 1974 with the San Jose Earthquakes after a successful career in both soccer and football at San Jose State University. He has played with Seattle, Tampa Bay and the Cosmos, scoring 11 goals and 27 points in 79 games.
Forward Andrew Parkinson, Team America's leading scorer, did not travel to Golden Bay because of migraine headaches. Defender Tony Bellinger, who had been recuperating from a sprained knee, was added to the roster.