- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 1, 2003

It's not entirely clear what D.C. United coach Ray Hudson is up to in putting together such an eclectic and interesting array of players, but it sure ignites the imagination.
This week United acquired Bulgarian striker Hristo Stoitchkov, along with his countryman, defender Galin Ivanov. Stoitchkov, who will be 37 next week, will also be an assistant coach. Watching Hudson and Stoitchkov working the sideline certainly won't be boring. Woe to any youngster who makes a mistake. Hudson might offer a kiss to the poor soul, but one look from the fiery Bulgarian will inflict the fear of God.
Purists who snicker at the quality of play in Major League Soccer must have veins of ice if a smidgen of curiosity doesn't cross their minds concerning Stoitchkov wearing a United jersey. After all, this is the man who led his country to the semifinals of the World Cup and won a zillion awards with mighty Barcelona.
Stoitchkov probably is the best left-footer still in the game since Diego Maradona left for Cuba. The problem is, Stoitchkov's ego is about the size of Maradona's. But that's OK. RFK Stadium could do with a little excitement. John Riggins is long gone.
Hudson's roster is certainly looking like a rouge's gallery of characters.
"I'm going to have to be like Ben Hur to keep them under control," Hudson said. "The fact that these guys have a high-priced testosterone running through them is a bonus."
First, there's the steely-eyed looks and emotional play of Marco Etcheverry. With Etcheverry and Stoitchkov on the same team, United easily has the best dead-ball specialists in MLS, which begs the question: Who will take the free kicks?
Then there's rugged defender Mike Petke, a 6-foot-2 platinum blond tackler who rarely takes prisoners. Petke drew hordes of female fans to games of the New York/New Jersey MetroStars at Giants Stadium.
Joining Stoitchkov from the Chicago Fire is short-tempered Ukrainian midfielder Dema Kovalenko, who once broke a Dallas Burn player's leg with a nasty tackle.
But Stoitchkov is by far the most radioactive player on United's roster. The man possesses a strange mixture of brilliance and madness, but even his worst enemies would agree that he is one of the world's most entertaining and passionate players.
"He drives a Hummer," Hudson said. "If you are what you drive we have one heck of a player."
In seven years with Spanish giant Barcelona, Stoitchkov was red-carded 11 times and once stomped on a referee's foot. Earlier in his career, he was banned for life after a brawl during the Bulgarian Cup Final, but the ban was later reduced.
Hudson says he hasn't brought Stoitchkov here for the player's swan song.
"I want him to be an impact player," Hudson said "There's plenty of gas in the tank still."
Whether he turns out to a hero or a villain with United, Stoitchkov is bound to catch our attention.
Throw in the talented play of American stars Earnie Stewart, Ben Olsen, Bobby Convey, Santino Quaranta and Nick Rimando, along with international defenders Milton Reyes and Ryan Nelsen, and United is starting to look like a team that could be fun again.
War or soccer? Concern is brewing over the 2003 FIFA World Youth Championship held by the United Arab Emirates, which starts March25. With war against Iraq on the horizon, the tournament that involves 24 national teams, including the United States, may be moved to another venue, possibly Japan. The U.A.E, which borders Saudi Arabia, extends military-basing privileges to the U.S. and Britain.
The Americans, coached by former D.C. United coach Thomas Rongen, are set to play Paraguay, Germany and South Korea in Group D. This is a record fourth straight championship tournament for the U.S. team, which has advanced to the second round in each of the last three tournaments.
The naked truth OK, so you're wondering whether the new Nike Shox NZ running shoe ad, where the naked guy, wearing just a scarf, dodges English bobbies at a soccer game is a real incident. Not so, folks. The ad was filmed over four cold days at London's Millwall stadium.
Actor Mark Bowden, who had to bare all, told the Sunday Mirror that the worst part of the shoot "was being rugby tackled by these 14-stone stuntmen, playing the policemen."
All the players in the ad are actors.
Corner kicks The U.S. national team might play Bolivia at RFK Stadium on May 26 in a testimonial for D.C. United Bolivian midfielder Marco Etcheverry. … The Washington Freedom will play a preseason match against the Carolina Courage on March 8 at Wilmington, N.C. Santa Clara's Aly Wagner will be the star catch of tomorrow's WUSA draft in Atlanta.


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