Three members of the Black-and-Red went missing this weekend, but for good reasons. Dema Kovalenko, Ryan Nelsen and Doug Warren were all otherwise occupied on Saturday as D.C. United picked up their first road win of the season in New England.
Kovalenko got the chance to play alongside some of the game's greats in one of the cathedrals of soccer, as he traveled to Barcelona, Spain for a farewell and benefit match for former Barcelona and D.C. United player Hristo Stoitchkov. Kovalenko stepped onto the pitch of the Nou Camp stadium with 25 minutes remaining in Saturday's match, lining up at right midfield, across from the legendary Bulgarian - playing left mid. Although he didn't score in the match, the experience was something that Kovalenko treasured.
"During warm-ups, I just stood in the middle and looked around," said Kovalenko. "It was unbelievable. The field itself and the stadium was just unbelievable. I just looked around trying to take everything in."
Stoitchkov scored a pair of goals to lead his Barcelona "Dream Team" to a 2-1 victory over a team of world All-Stars. United President & CEO Kevin Payne and Technical Director Dave Kasper were also in attendance at the match, which featured a wealth of famous names, all close friends of Stoitchkov. Tenor Josep Carreras sang "Nessun dorma" before the match and center official Alanas Uzunov was a witness at Stoitchkov's wedding. Bulgarian President George Pandarov and Barcelona club president Joan Laporta were also in attendance, along with Johan Cruyff and former Bulgarian national team manager Dimitar Penev.
Captain Ryan Nelsen is currently with New Zealand's National Team, as they try to qualify for World Cup 2006 in Germany. With his groin injury, Nelsen has not seen any action to date, but New Zealand has fared well. The All-Whites fought hard against Australia, losing 1-0 in the opening round, but bounced back to hand the Solomon Islands a 3-0 defeat. New Zealand takes on Vanuatu next, scheduled for an 8 p.m. local kickoff on Wednesday.
Also in action this weekend was United goalkeeper Doug Warren. Warren, on loan to the Northern Virginia Royals, backstopped the Pro Soccer League club to their first win of the 2004 season. He had eight saves as the Royals defeated the Long Island Rough Riders 3-2. Warren was definitely the more active of the 'keepers in the match, as the Royals only mustered four shots on goal.
John Roushkolb is a contributor to dcunited.com.