Cobi Jones has suddenly found his scoring touch for the U.S. team
His swoon-inducing mug freshly shaved, his Sideshow Bob coif
newly scrubbed, U.S. forward Cobi Jones left Washington's RFK
Stadium last Saturday carrying a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien's The
Fellowship of the Ring. "The movie's coming out next year so I
decided to get a head start," Jones said. "You like fantasy?"
Fantasy? Before Y2K, a world inhabited by hobbits and wizards
wasn't nearly as fanciful as one in which Jones would be an
effective sniper for the national team. But after scoring only
eight times in his first 120 international games, the nine-year
U.S. veteran had piled up an astonishing five goals in his last
seven matches at week's end. In Saturday's U.S. Cup opener Jones
connected on two long-range blasts--both with his weaker (left)
foot--and added two assists in a 4-0 rout of South Africa. "He
ran away from our defenders," marveled South African coach Trott
Moloto. "That number 13 is a good striker."
Note that he said striker. For even though Jones insists his
natural position is on the right wing, he's finding, in soccer
as in politics, that moving to the center has its advantages. He
may also be solving that eternal American problem--the lack of a
reliable finisher up front--at age 29, just as he's two matches
from setting the U.S. men's record with his 129th appearance.
"I'm never going to be a Gary Lineker-type player who scores
every time he touches the ball," Jones says, referring to the
retired English striker. "But after playing so many years, I've
gotten used to being in different situations, and I know how to
adjust to wherever I might be on the field."
Jones's scoring binge can only help in his drive to become MLS's
first $1 million American. In April commissioner Don Garber, who
seldom participates in contract talks, traveled to Los Angeles
for preliminary discussions with Jones, who is in the last year
of a contract with the Galaxy that pays him a salary of
$250,000. Jones and his agent, Cory Clemetson, can begin
negotiating with foreign suitors on July 1. "We very much want
to keep Cobi," says MLS executive vice president Ivan Gazidis,
who negotiates all player contracts. "He's in the top echelon of
players for what he does on and off the field."
In support of Jones's seven-figure demand, Clemetson points out
that the league has exceeded its maximum of $265,000 for foreign
acquisitions such as Luis Hernandez ($1.5 million per year) and
Lothar Matthaus ($1 million), and there's no denying that Jones
has spent nearly five years promoting MLS. That said, after
scoring only four times in 13 games through Sunday, he was tied
for 16th in the league in goals this season. All indications are
that he'll win a million bucks from Regis Philbin before he does
from MLS. "What I'm asking for isn't unreasonable," Jones says.
"If it's not something MLS can do, I'll have to look elsewhere."
Possible destinations include Mexico, France, Germany or even
England, where Jones still gets razzed for his disastrous
1994-95 season with Coventry City of the Premier League. (The
British soccer magazine FourFourTwo recently memorialized Jones
in its monthly department "They came. They saw. They were
crap.") "I'll be the first to admit that I didn't do very well
at Coventry," Jones says. "The style they played completely
skipped the midfield. Wherever I go now, it would have to be a
team that likes to play the ball on the ground, not the old
English style of 'Let's knock it up front and put it in the
mixer and see what happens.' That's not my game."
No, Jones's game is speed--and, not least, marketing. With Alexi
Lalas's retirement last year, Jones is America's most
recognizable male player. His is the best-seller among national
team jerseys; he has appeared on Beverly Hills 90210 and Arli$$;
and he's surely the only American player, male or female, who
has been fawned over both by the French (as Jones was while
visiting Paris on New Year's Eve) and by Americans (as he was
while strolling on a Biloxi, Miss., beach). Of course, as Lalas
knows, being hailed as most recognizable is a distant second to
being hailed as among the best. Which is why, if he can keep up
his scoring pace, Jones might soon be in line for a new adjective.
Danish Striker Miklos Molnar
Explosive Start In Kansas City
As befits somebody nicknamed Danish Dynamite, Wizards striker
Miklos Molnar can be volatile. In April he responded to getting
taken out of a game by kicking a water bottle, hurling
expletives at Kansas City coach Bob Gansler and storming to the
locker room--during a game the Wizards were winning. "If I feel
the coach is 100 percent behind me, then I can give so much
more," Molnar says. "If you say stupid things to me, then I
can't do 100 percent. Hopefully the coach will find out how I am."
This much is clear to all: No import has had more impact on MLS
this season than Molnar, whose eight goals in 10 games at week's
end had propelled the league's most shocking turnaround. After
starting last year 0-7 and finishing with MLS's second-worst
record, the Wizards owned the league's best mark through Sunday,
10-1-2. They also were scoring 2.08 goals per game, which was
tied for second-best in MLS, thanks largely to Molnar, a
Copenhagen native with a shaved head who powers through
opponents' penalty boxes like Yul Brynner strutting through a
performance of The King and I. "At the end of last season we
knew we needed a guy who went directly for the goal," says
Gansler, "and he's not shy about pulling the trigger."
Molnar, 30, came recommended by Kansas City midfielder Chris
Henderson, a friend from their days together in the mid-'90s
with FSV Frankfurt in Germany, just one stop in Molnar's
11-year, seven-club, seven-nation career. "If you serve him the
ball and he's on the run, he's going to first-time it and get it
on frame," says Henderson. "He's got a unique volley. Most
forwards hit the ball with their shoelaces, but Miklos hits it
with the side of his foot and just pounds it on goal."
Molnar will miss most of June to play for Denmark in Euro 2000,
joining the MetroStars' Lothar Matthaus as the only MLS
representatives in the tournament. When he returns, he'll
continue his quest for goals--and for snapshots of U.S. sights.
While in Miami he visited South Beach, took a boat tour and
drove to the Everglades in search of alligators. In New York
City he checked out the observation deck of the Empire State
Building. While in St. Louis for a preseason match he rode to
the top of the Gateway Arch, and while in Denver he played Mork
from Ork, exploring the mountains around nearby Boulder.
At the end of the season Molnar hopes to tour the country in
what he calls "one of those big funny cars"--a 1950s Cadillac
convertible with tail fins. "I found one that I liked, but oil
was dripping from it," he says. "I don't want the guys to have
to come pick me up on the highway every time I drive to training."
Q & A
Since jumping from the broadcast booth to the sidelines on May
8, Miami Fusion coach Ray Hudson has gone 3-2, ditched his
interim label and brought new life to a moribund franchise. We
spoke with the colorful English transplant, a former star with
the NASL's Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
Q: So, are you still "higher than a hippie at Woodstock," as you
said after your first win?
A: Higher and higher. I'm like a helium balloon drifting onward
and upward. But it's these boys who have responded. Their hearts
have been the size of pigs! Hercules wouldn't hold a candle to
Q: Tell me one of your favorite NASL stories.
A: One time we got a bag, filled it full of dog crap and put it
in our coach's car, right under the passenger seat. This was not
a popular coach [Eckhard Krautzun]. This was in South Florida,
in the height of summer, and it wasn't until three or four days
went by before he started to complain, "I have a funny smell in
my car, but I don't know what it is." We were struggling to put
our boots on because we were quaking with laughter.
Q: MLS needs more fun guys like you, Ray.
A: Soccer around the world is serious business, but it's still
entertainment--it's live theater. Any wacko characters like me
can only light the theater up.
Q: Sounds like none of your players in Miami will be putting dog
crap in your car anytime soon.
A: I'm sure with this bunch of pirates, it won't be too long
before they're pulling those sorts of pranks.