Three of a Kind
A troika of highly skilled Ukrainians led Indiana to a fourth NCAA title
It was the most memorable Ukrainian summit meeting since Yalta. Indiana midfielder Yuri Lavrinenko had just scored a goal off two breathtaking passes from his countrymen, forwards Aleksey Korol and Dema Kovalenko, to give the Hoosiers a 2-0 lead over Stanford in the 20th minute of Sunday's NCAA championship in Richmond, and now the trio was celebrating in front of the Cardinal goal. "Davai! Eshche odin!" Lavrinenko screamed in Russian. Translation: "Come on! One more!"
Korol obliged, scoring Indiana's final goal (Kovalenko had the other) in a 3-1 rout that gave the Hoosiers their fourth national title and provided one more plot twist in the saga of the three Ukrainians. In 1992, at age 14, they moved to the Rochester, N.Y., area to live with families who had invited them to stay the previous year, when their Dynamo Kiev youth team visited for a tournament. "There was a lot of violence and corruption back home," says Korol, "and not a lot to look forward to."
Kovalenko remembers the day in 1986 when the world's worst nuclear accident took place in Chernobyl, 100 miles north of Kiev. "We had a game the day it blew up," he says. "The government didn't even tell us. When we found out two days later, my parents sent me to my grandparents' house on the Black Sea for two months." Five years later Lavrinenko's father, Vladimir, died at age 53 of leukemia, which was thought to be caused by the Chernobyl fallout.
The Ukrainians spoke almost no English when they arrived in the U.S. on student visas, but they now sound almost like native Hoosiers. Korol watched a Beavis-load of MTV to learn about his new culture, and all three have become enamored of the traditional American sports. What's more, each one was named to the 1998 Big Ten All-Academic team; Korol and Kovalenko major in sports management, while Lavrinenko is a classical studies major.
They're also magnificent soccer players. Kovalenko, a daredevil with the ball, is the best pro prospect. (He turned down an offer to join MLS's Project-40 development program last year.) Korol, the fastest and most athletic, improved his finishing touch this season—he led the Hoosiers with 17 goals—and could also play in MLS. Lavrinenko, a cerebral playmaker, has an outside shot at the pros.
All three are thinking about becoming U.S. citizens. Last summer Kovalenko returned from his first visit back to Ukraine with horror stories about its professional league. "The players get paid four months late, they live in apartments without TV, and sometimes they have no hot water," he says. "I'm used to having hot water now."
Kovalenko says he will probably skip Ms final year in Bloomington to join MLS. But Korol and Lavrinenko were adamant on Sunday about their senior-year plans: Eshche odin. One more.
MLS's Carlos Llamosa
Cleaning up For D.C. United
When D.C. United upset Rio de Janeiro's Vasco da Gama 2-0 to win the Interamerican Cup (the Western Hemisphere club championship) on Dec. 5, soccer mavens around the world were shocked. Vasco, after all, started all but one of the players who had lost 2-1 to Real Madrid four days earlier in the final of the world club championship. Yet as jaw-dropping as United's victory may have been, it was no more remarkable than the odyssey of its best player in that game, defender Carlos Llamosa.