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Yugoslavian Goes Yuppie: Nebo Is Talk of St. Louis

Times Staff Writer

Here in the heartland of America, “Nebo, Nebo” has become a familiar chant at Steamers games.

The St. Louis fans are cheering for the latest in a long line of Yugoslavian soccer players to play in the Major Indoor Soccer League.

Steve Zungul and Preki of Tacoma . . . Stan Stamenkovic and Mike Stankovic of the Baltimore Blast . . . Slobo Ilijevski of the Steamers . . .

And now 20-year-old forward Nebo Bandovic of Nikcic, Yugoslavia, the scoring star of this most American of indoor soccer teams. Fourteen of the 20 players on the Steamer roster are Americans, 13 of those born in St. Louis.

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Bandovic joined this team when he came to St. Louis last December from the Red Star club in Yugoslavia. He could speak French, German, Yugoslavian and could do magic with a soccer ball, but the magic was all his new teammates could understand.

“But all I could say in English was one-two-three-four-five and thank you,” said Bandovic, who is now conducting phone interviews in an English that is more impressive than broken.

“The fans in St. Louis love me more than the other players,” said Bandovic, who is as candid as he is talented. “When they yell, ‘Let’s Go Nebo,’ I can’t stop. I never play bad in St. Louis. I say, ‘Nebo,’ you have to play better because they are happy when I score goals.”

The 7,841 fans at The Arena sounded ecstatic when Bandovic scored four goals in the Steamers’ 8-7 come-from-behind victory against the Sockers Wednesday night. The win kept the Steamers alive in the best-of-five semifinal Western Division playoff series, though the Sockers have a 2-1 edge going into the fourth game here Saturday night.

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Naturally, the deciding goal Wednesday night was scored by Bandovic.

“That was my favorite goal of the season,” said Bandovic, who has five goals in the playoff against San Diego and had scored 33 goals in 29 regular-season games. “The score was 7-7, so I say to myself that I have to go one-on-one. I saw the goalkeeper move to his left side. He thought I was going to go a little more with the ball, but I surprised him.”

Bandovic lined a right-footer into the upper-left corner of the net.

“I thought he was going to touch it one more time,” said Socker goalkeeper Jim Gorsek. “I tried coming out and picking him up, and just as I took a step, he hit it.”

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Boom.

That’s about how long it took the Steamers to sign Bandovic, who had never played indoor soccer before coming to St. Louis.

On the recommendation of Branko Perovanovic, a writer/agent from Yugoslavia who helped bring Zungul and Stamenkovic to the United States, McBride agreed to give Bandovic what he termed a “look-and-see” tryout.

“During his tryout,” McBride said, “I immediately liked what I saw. His one-on-one skill was different than what we had. And I also saw that he was an extrovert and could tell he would have fun learning the language.”

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How right mcBride was.

“I missed home for about a month,” Bandovic said. “After that, I was OK. Now, I’m American. No problem.”

He has his favorite television show, “The Little Street.” Translated, that is “Sesame Street.”

“Every day I speak better and understand better,” Bandovic said. “Now, for me, it’s easy. I want to learn to write.”

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Socially, Bandovic has had no problem acclimating himself to Union Station and Laclede’s Landing, an area filled with restaurants and bars, in St. Louis.

Indeed, it took Bandovic about as long to become a Yuppie as it did to become a top scorer.

Not long.

“I like to go to the discos and bars and I am the champion in what you call pinball,” Bandovic said. “I think American people are much better people than those in Europe. And the girls in America are better.”

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What about American cars?

Ilijevski went with Bandovic to buy a car, and Bandovic ended up with a 1974 green Monte Carlo. It broke down.

“I got a cheap car,” said Bandovic, who thought it was all quite amusing.

Now, he’s borrowing a car from a friend.

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“When I sign a new contract,” Bandovic said, “I’ll buy a Porsche. A red one.”

His contract with the Steamers expires as soon as St. Louis is eliminated from the playoffs. McBride said that the Steamers are “certainly interested in keeping him.”

However, as a potential free-agent, Bandovic is looking forward to playing the market.

“Lots of clubs have called me from Europe,” Bandovic said, “but I want to stay in America. Lots of clubs are interested in me here. I want to speak with everybody. I’ll go to whoever gives me the best contract. Maybe I’ll go to California. To Los Angeles or San Diego.”

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Can you hear the crowd at the Forum or Sports Arena chanting “Nebo, Nebo”?

Socker Notes Socker midfielder Branko Segota said he might join the Canadian National team May 1, which would mean he would probably miss some playoff games if the Sockers advance to the Western Division finals and championship series.

“I need three to four weeks to get into shape for the World Cup,” said Segota, who is one of 22 players selected for the Canadian A team. Training begins in Colorado Springs May 1 and Canada faces France in its opening game May 31.

Earlier this season, Major Indoor Soccer League Commissioner Francis Dale said the league will suspend any players who miss league games because they are playing for a national team.

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“I would like to stay in San Diego,” said Segota, whose contract with the Sockers expires June 1, “but I also want to play in the World Cup.”

If he is not suspended, Segota said he hopes to fly in for Socker playoff games on the day of the game. Segota trained with the Canadian team during the MISL regular season, but he did not miss any Socker games.

“If we (Sockers) had an important game,” Segota said, “I think they’d (Canadian team) let me go.”


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