- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 31, 2003

D.C. United midfielder Dema Kovalenko might want to call in sick for tonight’s game against the Dallas Burn in Texas. Though no “Wanted: Dead or Alive” posters have been spotted, Kovalenko is a marked man.

When the teams last met May3 at RFK Stadium, the speedy Ukrainian snapped the right leg of Ronnie O’Brien, the Burn’s talented midfielder, ending his season. To make matters worse, it wasn’t the first time Kovalenko had seriously injured a Burn player. While playing for the Chicago Fire in 1999, Kovalenko broke defender Brandon Pollard’s leg. Pollard played nine games after recovering and then retired.

“It’s the second time it’s come up with [Kovalenko] and the Dallas Burn,” Dallas coach Mike Jeffries told the Dallas Morning News recently. “That weighs pretty heavily with the guys.”

Kovalenko was suspended for one game and fined $1,000 for the tackle on O’Brien although the referee did not call a foul on the play. It didn’t help that Kovalenko refused to apologize to O’Brien.

“I know some Dallas players feel bad about it,” United coach Ray Hudson said about the game that will be played at Dragon Stadium in Southlake. “We cannot worry about that. We need Dema on the team. He’s a big boy and can look after himself. The lads will be keeping an eye on him.”

The incident against Dallas came a month after Hristo Stoitchkov, a teammate of Kovalenko with United, broke the leg of a college player in a preseason scrimmage. Whispers were circulating that United was a “dirty team.”

“These things happen and linger in the past like burnt toast,” Hudson said. “[The Kovalenko incident] will linger in the air. The referee needs to take control of the [Dallas] game quickly.”

Hudson needs Kovalenko to be free of distractions against the Burn because United will be missing several key players: captain Marco Etcheverry (minor knee surgery), defender Ryan Nelsen (suspension), forward Santino Quaranta (groin injury) and Milton Reyes (knee injury).

“Losing Ryan is a bigger loss than missing Etcheverry,” said Hudson of his central defender.

Ben Olsen, who came down with compartment syndrome (a circulation problem) after being kicked in the left leg while training with the national team last week, could see some playing time against Dallas. After Olsen practiced Thursday, Hudson said he had better than a 50 percent chance of playing in the right back role tonight.

Hudson likely will start forward Eliseo Quintanilla up front alongside Alecko Eskandarian, with Earnie Stewart and Bobby Convey on the flanks. Jose “Chino” Alegria, who picked up a slight neck injury in training, should be fit to start in the holding midfielder position.

Tonight’s game is crucial for both teams. United (0-2-4, 4 points) and Dallas (0-3-3, 3 points) are each looking for their first win six games into the season.

“We seem to be stuck in neutral and just can’t get the breaks to go forward,” Hudson said. “Even a blind man can see that the breaks have gone against us.”

Meanwhile, United stars Stewart and Convey were named to the national team’s 23-man roster for the Confederation Cup from June 18 to 29 in France, and each could miss as many as five United games. The U.S. team will warm up for the Cup with a game against New Zealand at the University of Richmond June8.

Hudson said United is seeking to add a youth transitional player to help his depleted team. The club is looking at two Argentine players and a youngster with an English Premier League club.

Corner kicks — D.C. United will play English Premier League mainstay Blackburn Rovers in an international friendly July23 at 7:30 p.m. at RFK Stadium. American World Cup goalie Brad Friedel plays for Blackburn. … Washington Freedom’s Mia Hamm has donated her bike to this year’s annual World T.E.A.M. Sports Celebrity Bicycle Auction. The silent auction will be at SportsClub/LA in the District Tuesday from 7 to 10 p.m. … The Spanish-language Galavision cable outlet will carry two of the U.S. team’s group games at the Confederations Cup in France. Galavision will show matches against Turkey June19 at 12:50 p.m. and Cameroon June23 at 2:50 p.m. The United States-Brazil match June21 will air on TeleFutra at 3 p.m. The semifinals June 26 will be shown on Galavision at 7 p.m. and the June 29 final on Univision at 3 p.m.

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