Cobi Jones has suddenly found his scoring touch for the U.S. team
His swoon-inducing mug freshly shaved, his Sideshow Bob coif newly scrubbed, U.S. forward Cobi Jones left Washington's RFK Stadium last Saturday carrying a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring. "The movie's coming out next year so I decided to get a head start," Jones said. "You like fantasy?"
Fantasy? Before Y2K, a world inhabited by hobbits and wizards wasn't nearly as fanciful as one in which Jones would be an effective sniper for the national team. But after scoring only eight times in his first 120 international games, the nine-year U.S. veteran had piled up an astonishing five goals in his last seven matches at week's end. In Saturday's U.S. Cup opener Jones connected on two long-range blasts—both with his weaker (left) foot—and added two assists in a 4-0 rout of South Africa. "He ran away from our defenders," marveled South African coach Trott Moloto. "That number 13 is a good striker."
Note that he said striker. For even though Jones insists his natural position is on the right wing, he's finding, in soccer as in politics, that moving to the center has its advantages. He may also be solving that eternal American problem—the lack of a reliable finisher up front—at age 29, just as he's two matches from setting the U.S. men's record with his 129th appearance. "I'm never going to be a Gary Lineker-type player who scores every time he touches the ball," Jones says, referring to the retired English striker. "But after playing so many years, I've gotten used to being in different situations, and I know how to adjust to wherever I might be on the field."
Jones's scoring binge can only help in his drive to become MLS's first $1 million American. In April commissioner Don Garber, who seldom participates in contract talks, traveled to Los Angeles for preliminary discussions with Jones, who is in the last year of a contract with the Galaxy that pays him a salary of $250,000. Jones and his agent, Cory Clemetson, can begin negotiating with foreign suitors on July 1. "We very much want to keep Cobi," says MLS executive vice president Ivan Gazidis, who negotiates all player contracts. "He's in the top echelon of players for what he does on and off the field."
In support of Jones's seven-figure demand, Clemetson points out that the league has exceeded its maximum of $265,000 for foreign acquisitions such as Luis Hern�ndez ($1.5 million per year) and Lothar Matth�us ($1 million), and there's no denying that Jones has spent nearly five years promoting MLS. That said, after scoring only four times in 13 games through Sunday, he was tied for 16th in the league in goals this season. All indications are that he'll win a million bucks from Regis Philbin before he does from MLS. "What I'm asking for isn't unreasonable," Jones says. "If it's not something MLS can do, I'll have to look elsewhere."
Possible destinations include Mexico, France, Germany or even England, where Jones still gets razzed for his disastrous 1994-95 season with Coventry City of the Premier League. (The British soccer magazine FourFourTwo recently memorialized Jones in its monthly department "They came. They saw. They were crap.") "I'll be the first to admit that I didn't do very well at Coventry," Jones says. "The style they played completely skipped the midfield. Wherever I go now, it would have to be a team that likes to play the ball on the ground, not the old English style of 'Let's knock it up front and put it in the mixer and see what happens.' That's not my game."
No, Jones's game is speed—and, not least, marketing. With Alexi Lalas's retirement last year, Jones is America's most recognizable male player. His is the best-seller among national team jerseys; he has appeared on Beverly Hills 90210 and Arli$$; and he's surely the only American player, male or female, who has been fawned over both by the French (as Jones was while visiting Paris on New Year's Eve) and by Americans (as he was while strolling on a Biloxi, Miss., beach). Of course, as Lalas knows, being hailed as most recognizable is a distant second to being hailed as among the best. Which is why, if he can keep up his scoring pace, Jones might soon be in line for a new adjective.
Danish Striker Miklos Molnar
Explosive Start In Kansas City
As befits somebody nicknamed Danish Dynamite, Wizards striker Miklos Molnar can be volatile. In April he responded to getting taken out of a game by kicking a water bottle, hurling expletives at Kansas City coach Bob Gansler and storming to the locker room—during a game the Wizards were winning. "If I feel the coach is 100 percent behind me, then I can give so much more," Molnar says. "If you say stupid things to me, then I can't do 100 percent. Hopefully the coach will find out how I am."