BALTIMORE — Stan Stamenkovic and Mike Stankovic are Yugoslavian-born players for the Blast. They create harmony on indoor soccer fields for Baltimore, and they are players the Sockers must watch in Game 4 of the Major Indoor Soccer League championships at 10:35 a.m. today.
Stamenkovic, who scored four goals as Baltimore won Thursday's Game 3, 10-6, was the team's leading scorer and league's fourth-leading scorer in regular season play. Stankovic, who scored two goals Thursday, was the team's fourth-leading scorer and the leading scorer among MISL defenders.
But that is where the similarities end.
- Stamenkovic came to America in 1981 to play soccer. Stankovic came to America in 1978 as an accordion player in a band.
Don Popovic, coach of the New York Arrows in 1981, invited Stamenkovic to the United States. The Yugoslavian-born Popovic had heard how Stamenkovic led his First Division team in Yugoslavia to three national championships. But shortly after Stamenkovic arrived in September, 1981, Popovic traded him to Memphis.
"When I came here as a free agent, Popovic told me I was a great player," Stamenkovic said. "But he said people from Yugoslavia told him I had a bad knee and could only play five or six more months. I had twisted my knee in 1978 and had surgery two times. I only played 35 or 40 games the next three years."
Stankovic enjoyed playing in a band. He was "discovered" by members of the Chicago Sting when his band played at a Yugoslavian nightclub in Chicago in 1978.
"I was a musician in Yugoslavia because my father was a musician," Stankovic said. "I came to Chicago to see what America was like. I played in an amateur band, and I played once or twice a week with an amateur soccer team. I had a couple of friends on the Sting, so I asked them to come to a couple of my games. They told me I could play anywhere I wanted. When one of them got traded to Memphis in 1980, I went with him and signed with their team."
- Stamenkovic has resigned himself to a quiet life style in America. Stankovic, nicknamed Prince Mike by a Blast radio announcer, wears a full-length raccoon fur coat in the winter and drives a 1983 red Alpha-Romeo. He is considered the team's most eligible bachelor.
"What can I say?" Stankovic asked. "It makes me play better when I spend time with friends." Stamenkovic lives with his wife, Vera, and their two young children.
"For me, it is very easy to live here with my wife and two kids," Stamenkovic said. "We have a lot of friends here. We go home to Yugoslavia one week after the season for vacation."
Stankovic remains in Baltimore during the off-season.
- Stamenkovic stands six-feet and weighs a rotund-looking 195 pounds. Stankovic is a picture of fitness at six-feet and 170 pounds.
Around the MISL, Stamenkovic is known as the Pizza Man. He said it's because of his pregame eating habits, but opponents often say it's because of his appearance.
"Stan was big before he came here," Stankovic said. "The pizza doesn't make any difference in him. I eat as much pizza as he does."
Stankovic just doesn't show it as much.
- Stamenkovic has gained a reputation for faking injuries and taking dives purposely to draw fouls on the opposition. Stankovic is considered an overly physical player.
In Game 3, Stamenkovic stayed down for two minutes after suffering a supposed ankle injury. He limped off as if he would not return, but he came back two minutes later.
When asked Friday about the situation, Stamenkovic pointed to the tape on his left ankle. "I was hurt," he said.
Stankovic temporarily hurt San Diego's Cha Cha Namdar with a hard bump into the boards Thursday. The Sockers have long complained that Stankovic gets away with dirty tactics.
"Stankovic is too physical," Namdar said. "Now I see why they got their butts kicked physically by Cleveland (in the semifinals). They begged us not to be physical at San Diego. Then when we come here, they play like bulldozers."
Stankovic helped Baltimore knock down the Sockers for the first time in the series in Game 3. When he missed the first two games with a sprained ankle, the Blast was a more defensive-oriented team and lost both times.
Stamenkovic suffered the most without Stankovic. He was held scoreless in Game 1, and he had two assists in Game 2.
Said Ron Newman, Socker coach: "We know what Stamenkovic is going to do when he has the ball. We just can't stop it because he's so bloody clever. Plus, he gets away with all of those dives.
"I admire Stankovic as a player. He gets away with too much with his arms. He pushes off players and the refs don't say anything about it. If he did those things with his feet, he wouldn't get away with it."
So while Stamenkovic and Stankovic have their share of differences, they do one thing in common--they score a lot of goals. And the Sockers hope the duo doesn't get away with so much of that from now on.