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Time for Kirovski to step up.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Monday, July 26, 1999) -- He has been playing soccer in Europe since 1992 -- and is just 23 years old. He has been associated, albeit on the fringe, with two of the biggest names in world soccer -- Manchester United (England) and Borussia Dortmund (Germany), scoring a goal for the latter in a 1996 Champions League match.

He has been an occasional performer for the United States national team since 1994. Now it is time for Jovan Kirovski to step up and assume the responsibility of being a major cog in the rebuilding process under coach Bruce Arena, and so far he is accepting the challenge -- including a sparkling one-goal, one-assist effort Friday in the 2-1 win against New Zealand.

The midfielder\striker has been strong throughout 1999 but there is a big difference between the earlier games -- and the ones now in Guadalajara (Mexico) in the Confederations Cup. He doesn't have Claudio Reyna and Chris Armas with him in the middle. Instead he has John Harkes and Richie Williams. That didn't matter much against New Zealand, which gave the Americans plenty of space.

But it will get tighter, much tighter, in the next two games, against Brazil and Germany -- a severe pair of tests. Kirovski has the tools -- classy ball-control, good finishing technique -- to be a mainstay, perhaps a star, for the next decade, though he sometimes seems to drift in and out of the action, like the first half in the recent Argentina match.

More important than how he performs the rest of the Confederations Cup is his future overseas. He spent four years with Manchester United reserve team, and though management said it wanted to promote him to the talent-laden first squad, he was unable to get a work permit -- and subsequently went to equally talented Borussia Dortmund, where he was a sub on the 1997 European champions.

He got some starts in 1998 when several starters were injured, but ran into a dry spell and was benched. Last fall he was loaned to Fortuna Cologne in the second division, and won three "Man of the Match" honors in the September-December segment of the season. He wasn't so fortunate in the second half, feuded with his coach (who he said was upset at his participation in the U.S. Cup during the winter), and lost the starter's position.

Kirovski now goes back to Borussia Dortmund, but the key is will he play and continue to grow as a player. Arena is similar to departed coach Steve Sampson in at least one respect: he wants overseas national team members to be playing and developing, not sitting on the bench no matter how prestigious the club moniker may be.

Defender Matt McKeon may have a major opportunity for the national team for the rest of the Confederations Cup. He got the call-up -- leaving after Sunday night's Colorado Rapids game -- after Armas was injured in an exhibition match against Egypt.

His play in the defensive midfield has been little short of phenomenal for the Western Conference-leading Rapids. He is a bone-jarring tackler with offensive capabilities as well. The biggest knock has been lack of speed, but that problem hasn't stopped veteran Jeff Agoos from being the best outside back in Major League Soccer this season.

Speaking of the defensive midfield, not yet a contributing part of the new-look national team are 1998 World Cup starters Brian Maisonneuve and Chad Deering.

Both are having so-so seasons in Major League Soccer. Maisonneuve, 26, admittedly is not a defensive midfielder; he makes his living as an offensively-inclined midfielder with the Columbus Crew. He is injury-prone, however, and didn't make the Confederations Cup squad despite the absence of Reyna.

Deering, 28, also is more known as an offensive midfielder, though he played sweeper, and well in that role, for the Dallas Burn part of last year. He also has been slowed by injuries, and didn't even make the 27-player training camp squad named by Arena.

Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at

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