SAN JOSE — The most politically incorrect and yet most frequently asked question in the Bay Area the past few days has been: What will Georgi Hristov think of the local women?
Put another way, what will the local women think of Georgi Hristov?
To understand the interest, a little background is in order.
Hristov might be the only soccer player from his native Macedonia to have earned a headline beyond the borders of the former Yugoslav republic. But not for the right reasons.
Not long after being signed by Barnsley of the English Premier League last year, the former Partizan Belgrade striker was interviewed by a Belgrade magazine and supposedly delivered the following not-altogether-generous opinion:
"The local [English] girls are far uglier than the ones back in Belgrade or Skopje," he said. "Our women are much prettier. Besides, they don't drink as much beer as the Barnsley girls--which is something I don't like at all."
Needless to say, the comment did not sit well in Barnsley, where the menfolk were ready to take to the streets with torches aflame and pitchforks at the ready to rid the town of this misguided Macedonian.
Yorkshiremen don't like their beer being insulted.
Fortunately, the uproar subsided after Hristov made the obligatory bowing and scraping gestures, claiming he had been misunderstood and misquoted, and that the females of Barnsley are, in fact, veritable goddesses.
True or not, Hristov today finds himself in San Jose with the rest of the Macedonian national team as it prepares to play the United States tonight in the second half of a Spartan Stadium doubleheader.
The game means nothing to Macedonia, which will not be going to the France '98 World Cup. A 4-5-1 qualifying record and a fourth-place finish behind Romania, Ireland and Lithuania in a six-team group took care of that. Only Iceland and Liechtenstein finished lower.
That does not mean the Macedonians will be a pushover for the Americans. The team does, in fact, include several useful players. Hristov is one of them. It was his goal in March that defeated World Cup-bound Bulgaria, 1-0, in Skopje, Macedonia.
Defender Mitko Stojkovski, recently signed by Germany's VfB Stuttgart, also is more than capable, as is midfielder Viktor Trenevski of Partizan Belgrade. It is the presence of several players who either play or have played in Yugoslavia that makes this game worthwhile for the U.S.
The Americans play Yugoslavia in Nantes on June 25 in a World Cup match they might have to win to advance to the second round. Tonight's game at 8 is a sort of warm-up for that encounter, a chance for the U.S. to experience a Balkan opponent.
"They are somewhat similar to Yugoslavia," U.S. Coach Steve Sampson said. "They do have some individually talented players. They're a team that typically likes to play a very offensive style of soccer. They love the individual flair.
"I think this will be a great test for us, although it's not quite the quality of Yugoslavia."
The U.S. will be fielding a somewhat understrength lineup because of injuries. Playmaker Claudio Reyna was listed as questionable because of "a slight calf injury" and a final determination on his availability was not going to be made until after a Friday evening training session at Santa Clara University.
Winger Frankie Hejduk is suffering from a hamstring strain. Midfielder/forward Ernie Stewart has a sprained left ankle and will not play. Striker Eric Wynalda is rehabilitating from knee surgery and will not play--either for the U.S. or for the San Jose Clash, which plays the Miami Fusion at 5:30 p.m. in the Major League Soccer game that opens the doubleheader.
"Outside of that, everyone seems to be relatively healthy," Sampson said.
Reyna, Hejduk and Stewart were keys to the Americans' 3-0 victory over Austria in their most recent match, meaning that Sampson soon will learn about the depth of his squad.
Whether Hristov can sink to new depths with remarks about the women of San Jose remains to be seen.