- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2005

Known for his fiery and combative style, D.C. United’s Dema Kovalenko is working hard on becoming a wiser and calmer player in his third season with the team. Often criticized in the past for his hot temper, he has become a key fixture in coach Peter Nowak’s lineup.

A left-sided midfielder with an eye for the goal, Kovalenko plays a key role as he takes on his old club, the Chicago Fire, in the second game of the first-round playoff series at RFK Stadium on Sunday.

“I came into the season with the goal to concentrate on the game more,” Kovalenko said. “I still do things. I’m just very competitive, and I will never change.”

One of those “things” Kovalenko does is pick up yellow cards, but this season he has tried to keep his temper in check. His four goals and four assists in 23 starts are a testament to his efforts. He was tied for fifth on the team in points with Josh Gros in regular season and fifth in shots on goal.

While Kovalenko was ejected from a league game at the New England Revolution in August, four days after being ejected in a U.S. Open Cup match, he only has collected three yellow cards in 2005. That’s his best record in cautions in his seven-year pro-career.

“After the red cards against New England and Dallas, I talked to him a number of times, and he has made a lot of progress since two or three years ago,” Nowak said.

In the Chicago game, Kovalenko will be matched up against either Logan Pause or Justin Mapp, the player he was exchanged for when he joined United in 2002.

“I think some coaches tell their players to try and get in my head,” Kovalenko said. “But I’m getting much better at dealing with it.”

Kovalenko’s father is a retired referee in Ukraine and often gives advice to his son, who moved to the United States to play for Indiana in the mid-1990s.

“He always tells me to stay calm and not get winded up because I can hurt the team,” Kovalenko said.

The 28-year-old missed the first five games of the season recovering from a broken foot, but once he regained his fitness he has been a starter. Meantime, Nowak is still pushing him hard.

“Dema still needs to finish more chances we create because as a wide player you always have a chance to be at the end of the play,” Nowak said.

Note — Freddy Adu met President John Kufuor of his native Ghana last night at the American Film Institute for the debut of the Travel Channel’s “Ghana: The Presidential Tour.”

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