- The Washington Times - Friday, September 10, 2004

The “Person of the Century” arrives at RFK Stadium today to take on D.C. United.

Well not really, but close.

A computer glitch on Time magazine’s Web site in 1999 — caused by several votes from Ireland — placed soccer player Ronnie O’Brien ahead of Yitzhak Rabin, Elvis Presley, Billy Graham, Adolf Hitler and Albert Einstein in Time’s “Person of the Century” poll. For 12 hours the unknown O’Brien — now a Dallas Burn player — commanded the lofty spot until the magazine rebooted its computers.

“I only heard about it when it was all over,” said O’Brien, a Dublin native who was playing in Switzerland at the time. “Someone called and told me I was Person of the Century and then I wasn’t.”

The talented midfielder finds himself atop another list these days. O’Brien leads Major League Soccer with 10 assists and appears in fine form after spending most of last season on crutches.

“I’m playing well, but I should be scoring more goals,” O’Brien said. “I’ve had loads of chances.”

In the MSL constellation, the Burn’s stars have been a little dim of late, but O’Brien, 25, has been one of the exceptions. He was named MLS Player of the Week after striking a brilliant goal and earning two assists against Chicago on Aug.28 and has created a dangerous offensive partnership with Eddie Johnson (9 goals).

O’Brien’s leg was broken in May 2003 at RFK Stadium after a nasty tackle by United midfielder Dema Kovalenko, and he missed 27 games. Kovalenko never apologized for the incident.

“We never spoke about it,” said O’Brien, who still has a titanium rod in his leg.

Though today’s matchup will be O’Brien’s first visit to RFK for a league game since the injury, he did face Kovalenko in the MLS All-Star game at RFK in July, a testy game that saw the two feisty players tussle.

The technically gifted O’Brien has quite a history.

He helped Ireland’s youth team win a European title in 1998. A year later, after being released from English club Middlesbrough, he was offered a stunning five-year contract with Juventus, becoming only the second Irish player to sign with an Italian team. He struggled at Juventus but did play in three Intertoto Cup games before being loaned out to other clubs, including Dundee United. He was acquired by MLS in the middle of 2002 and immediately made an impact for Dallas.

O’Brien is now one of the league’s elite midfielders and is in the process of trying to renew his contract with MSL.

“I’m happy here and when you’re happy, there’s no point in moving,” said O’Brien, who is quick and tactically aware. “I just hope the league appreciates me.”

With a goal and three assists in his last two matches, O’Brien will be a handful for United’s back line in today’s nationally televised game (ESPN2, 4 p.m.).

With just six games remaining in the regular season, United (6-9-9, 27 points) needs to earn points against the Burn (9-10-5, 32 points), who are last in the tight Western Conference.

Around MLS — Just more than three months ago, Columbus was hovering at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Now the Crew sit atop the East, are unbeaten in 12 games and need just six points to clinch a playoff berth.

Former D.C. United midfielder Tony Sanneh, fresh from the German Bundesliga, made his first start for the Crew last week. He played 82 minutes and earned an assist in a 3-1 win over Los Angeles, then scored the game-winner in a 1-0 victory at San Jose on Wednesday. …

Kansas City is the first team to earn 11 wins this season after beating the MetroStars 1-0 last Saturday on Josh Wolff’s goal. … New England coach Steve Nicol is walking on thin ice these days. The Revolution are winless in four games and sitting at the bottom of the East, three points behind D.C. United. Former Maryland star Taylor Twellman seems to be returning to form for the Revolution but keeps hitting the woodwork instead of the back of the net.

Tough time — It hasn’t been pleasant sailing for former San Jose coach Frank Yallop since he left MLS to coach Canada. His team has lost 2-0 to Guatemala, tied Honduras 1-1 at home and lost 1-0 at Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying. That leaves Canada at the bottom of Group 2 with just one point from three games and a fading chance of reaching the 2006 World Cup.

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