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Guten Tag It was a good day indeed for the U.S. and the rejuvenated Jovan Kirovski, who sparked a stunning 3-0 victory over Germany with a goal spoken of round the world

Feb. 15, 1999
Feb. 15, 1999

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Feb. 15, 1999

Faces In The Crowd

Guten Tag It was a good day indeed for the U.S. and the rejuvenated Jovan Kirovski, who sparked a stunning 3-0 victory over Germany with a goal spoken of round the world

News, especially soccer news, can travel a long, strange path
through the wired world. Last Saturday morning Zivko and Ubavka
Kirovski were pacing nervously inside their Escondido, Calif.,
house when the phone rang. Their 22-year-old son, Jovan, was
playing for the U.S. against Germany that very moment in
Jacksonville, but the game was to be telecast on a tape-delayed
basis on the West Coast. It was being shown live in England,
though, and now Jovan's Manchester-based agent, Steve Kelly, was
on the line. "Jovan just scored the best goal you've ever seen!"
Kelly told Ubavka. "Shut up!" she screamed. "You're joking!"

This is an article from the Feb. 15, 1999 issue

Soccer fans from Boston to Berlin were surely saying the same
thing after watching Kirovski's goal in the 16th minute. He drove
down the left side, swooped inside defender Markus Babbel and
fired a 23-yard rocket at 75 mph into the far corner of the
German net. Even more astonishing, the Americans scored twice in
the next 10 minutes on goals by midfielders Tony Sanneh and
Claudio Reyna. The 3-0 whitewash at Alltel Stadium, the first
victory in three matches for new U.S. coach Bruce Arena, was the
first in America's seven meetings with a German team, dating back
to '72. "I was surprised how much we dominated," said Reyna
afterward. "We weren't scared or timid. That was the big
difference between this game and the World Cup."

It was in the World Cup last June, you may recall, that German
midfielder and chief henchman Jens Jeremies clubbed Reyna into
submission during the U.S.'s humiliating 2-0 loss. Payback came
last Saturday, especially when Sanneh stripped Jeremies, took off
on a breakaway and slotted the ball into a German goal that had
suddenly opened as wide as the Rhine. "Bruce had a great game
plan," said Sanneh. "We were going to put pressure on them from
the beginning. They remembered the World Cup, so I don't think
they were expecting that."

To understand Arena, you must first know his predecessor, Steve
Sampson, whose regime is now held in the same esteem as the Nixon
Administration. Hamstrung by the constant threat of dismissal and
dogged by a harder-than-expected World Cup qualification, Sampson
stuck with plodding veterans like Alexi Lalas and Roy Wegerle,
all but ignoring talented, if inexperienced, players such as
Kirovski; Sanneh, 27; Chris Armas, 26; and Eddie Lewis, 24. Those
four have since proved themselves on the club level and are now
thriving in Arena's midfield.

What's more, after opening the Arena era with scoreless ties
against Australia and Bolivia, the U.S. may finally be on the
verge of solving its most intractable problem: finding a lineup
that can score against a quality opponent. True, Germany is
rebuilding under new coach Erich Ribbeck, but the players on the
Mannschaft last Saturday weren't scrubs. Although top striker
Oliver Bierhoff was missing, the Germans still had more World Cup
veterans in their starting lineup (five) than did the U.S.
(four).

The Americans controlled the game from the start, abusing
Germany's defense with a bold, organized push forward. Finally,
their run of 288 scoreless minutes came to an end. "Jovan had a
great goal, but it was a fair goal, because until that point we
had put our stamp on the game," said Arena, who had moved
Kirovski from forward to attacking midfielder upon recalling him
last month. "For a while we weren't getting enough out of Jovan
in terms of creating chances, but today he made up for all of
that."

Why Kirovski wasn't chosen for the '98 World Cup team is one of
American soccer's great mysteries. From 1992 to '96 he played on
the youth and reserve teams of Manchester United, the world's
most famous club. He led Manchester's reserves in '96 with 20
goals in 21 games, and in August of that year the club offered
him a four-year, $1.2 million contract, identical to the one it
gave English star (and Kirovski contemporary) David Beckham. But
because England takes great pains to limit the number of
non-European players on its rosters, the British government
wouldn't grant Kirovski a work permit--preventing him from
playing on United's first team. After scoring five goals in nine
games with the U.S. Olympic team in '96, he signed a four-year,
$2 million deal with German titan Borussia Dortmund.

Kirovski's fortunes yo-yoed at Dortmund, the 1997 world club
champion. Two years ago he became the only American ever to
score in the elite European Champions League, and last year he
played in 13 Bundesliga games but was only an occasional
starter. Sampson used him in only two World Cup qualifiers, and
their relationship crumbled after he called Kirovski in for a
qualifier against Costa Rica--which hurt Kirovski's club
standing--and then left him on the bench. Last spring Kirovski
learned that he had been cut from the U.S. team by reading about
it in a German newspaper.

This season Dortmund loaned Kirovski to second-division Fortuna
Cologne, and he has been playing every week under former
Dortmund assistant Toni Schumacher. "It's a smaller club where I
knew I'd get a chance to play because Toni was there," says
Kirovski. "I needed that experience." (He's scheduled to return
to Dortmund next year, but he won't go back, he says, "if I
don't get a real chance to play there.")

Just as important, Kirovski is adapting comfortably to his new
position in what could become a formidable central midfield for
the next millennium. In Armas, Arena has found a gem: a player
who is willing--and able--to do the dirty work of a defensive
midfielder. Meanwhile, the 25-year-old Reyna is more relaxed
under Arena, who was his college coach at Virginia and who has
charged Armas and Kirovski with sharing Reyna's offensive and
defensive duties. Says Kirovski, "Attacking midfielder is my
best position. I get the ball more than I did at forward, I get
to come back deeper, and there's not always somebody right on my
back. For me, it's ideal."

Kirovski phoned his parents after the win over Germany, but they
still hadn't seen the game, so he checked back later. By that
time Ubavka had watched her son's performance and was busy
searching the Internet for apocalyptic German newspaper
headlines.

"Did you see the goal?" he asked.

"Jovan," she replied with pride, "it was the best shot I have
ever seen."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BOB ROSATO Teuton common Aggressive play by U.S. midfielders Reyna (10) and Armas put the clamps on Jeremies.