When Los Angeles Galaxy general manager Doug Hamilton signed Jovan Kirovski in February, he was looking for a striker to complement the post-up skills of two-time MLS goal-scoring champ Carlos Ruiz. Judging from the Galaxy's 3-1 drubbing of previously undefeated Dallas at the Cotton Bowl last Saturday, that's exactly what Hamilton got. The Burn, which had surrendered just one goal in its first four games, marked Ruiz with central defenders Steve Jolley and Cory Gibbs for most of the match, leaving Kirovski free to roam. The 28-year-old Californian made Dallas pay for that mistake, scoring twice: once on a header when he was left alone near the penalty spot and another time on a nifty turn from just beyond the 18-yard box, the ball skidding between two defenders and into the lower left corner. "This is what I was looking for," Kirovski said afterward. "To play week in and week out. To score goals. To just help a team."
For the better part of a decade Kirovski has been one of the most enigmatic figures in American soccer. At age 16 he was signed by Manchester United, and he played in its fabled youth system alongside David Beckham and Ryan Giggs. Four years later he seemed on the verge of stardom when he scored five goals in nine games for the U.S. Olympic team. A $2 million contract with German powerhouse Borussia Dortmund followed.
But the breakout never came. In stints with five European teams Kirovski scored just 10 goals and spent the better part of eight years on the bench. As his club career stagnated, so did his international career. Though Kirovski played a role in helping the U.S. qualify for both the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, he failed to make the final roster either time. "I don't regret it at all," he says of his time in Europe, where in addition to Borussia Dortmund (with whom he won the Champions League in 1997) he played for Fortuna Cologne, Sporting Lisbon in Portugal, as well as Crystal Palace and Birmingham City in England. "You're not going to turn clubs like that down."
Kirovski covets a roster spot for the 2006 World Cup, and he came back to the U.S. primarily to showcase himself to national team coach Bruce Arena. He's earned call-ups in both of the Yanks' home friendlies since his return and will be in the mix when World Cup qualifying begins in June against Grenada. "We're really going to find out where Jovan is as a player this year," says Arena. "More playing time. That's the bottom line for him. It's going to help his cause."
Kirovski is certainly helping the Galaxy's cause. With three goals he's already on his way to surpassing his best season abroad, when he scored five times in 26 matches for Crystal Palace three years ago. He and play-making Austrian midfielder Andreas Herzog have added punch to an attack that tied for the league low with just 35 goals last season. After Saturday's win L.A. was second in MLS with 11 goals. ( Ruiz had a league-best six) "Carlos likes to stand right in front of the crease," says Hamilton, "but Jovan would rather pick up the ball and have it on his feet for awhile. He can run off Carlos."
Beyond the goals, the stat that's most important to Kirovski is that he has played 535 of a possible 540 minutes this season. "I'm in my prime," Kirovski says. "I need to be playing every day. I haven't been this happy in a long time."