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Galaxy’s Jones Playing With Renewed Vigor

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two of the streaking stars of the United States’ 3-0 victory over Austria in Vienna on Wednesday night will be on display at the Rose Bowl tonight, but only one will be in the spotlight.

So far this Major League Soccer season, it has been the Galaxy’s Cobi Jones, not the Tampa Bay Mutiny’s Frankie Hejduk, who has blazed the brightest path across the MLS heavens.

Jones is the league’s top scorer with four goals and five assists for Los Angeles, which is unbeaten at 5-0 and chasing its league-record 12-0 start set in 1996.

Hejduk, another speedy winger from UCLA, has only two goals and no assists, and Tampa Bay Coach John Kowalski is worried that flying from Denver to Vienna to Atlanta to Los Angeles in four days might have taken its toll on the midfielder.

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Jones, meanwhile, feels just fine, thank you. The burnout that was evident at the end of last season has vanished.

“I just think the main thing for me was having a month and a half off in December and January,” Jones said. “I got to get away from the game. I got to do things that I wanted to do but hadn’t been able to do in, like, three or four years. That, I think, is the biggest change.”

The World Cup, which starts in France in seven weeks, provides a definite incentive.

Meanwhile, the Galaxy is profiting from Jones’ newfound surge of energy.

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“We have good chemistry,” Jones said of the unbeaten start to the season. “I was disappointed to see [Eduardo] Hurtado go. He added an aspect to our game. But I think we’ve added a different aspect. We’re a lot more mobile up front than we were in the past.

“There’s a lot more responsibility on myself and Welton and the players in midfield to perform, without Hurtado, because the focus is on us, but I think we’ve done well so far. Hopefully, we can continue.”

Speed is Jones’ main weapon. He was not a scholarship-level track star at Westlake High in Westlake Village, but he was fast enough to earn a soccer scholarship to UCLA.

“I ran the 100 [meters], 200, 400 and the relays,” he said. “I always did track for fun. It was a fun thing where you could just hang out with your friends all day, flirt with the girls, that type of stuff.”

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With a 1991 Pan American Games gold medal in Cuba, the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and the 1994 World Cup already on his resume, Jones nevertheless is excited about this summer’s World Cup. Much as he enjoyed USA ’94, France ’98 offers a more intense experience.

“Growing up, you always hear about the World Cup [being played] here or there,” he said. “This will actually be a World Cup in France. It’s a little different than being in the United States because there’s total attention on you. The U.S. isn’t a soccer power around the world, it’s not really a soccer country. But being in a country where it’s all football, football, I think it will have a little bit of a different flavor.”

Jones, who turns 28 the day after the United States-Germany game in Paris on June 15, soon will represent the older generation on the national team.

“I’ll be the old man out there,” Jones said with a laugh. “It’s good. Things change, always change. Hopefully, if things go well, maybe [I will have] another World Cup after this. We’ll see how it goes. Right now, I’m just concentrating on this one, having a good showing there. Maybe if things go well, another stint overseas for a couple of years. We’ll see.”

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Jones had brief stints at Coventry City in England’s Premier League and a short stay with Vasco da Gama in Brazil, but there is one league he yearns to play in.

“I would love to go to France,” he said. “I’ve told everyone from Day 1, I would love to play in France.”

This summer, Jones will get the chance to showcase his talents to the French, and who knows, perhaps AS Monaco, Paris St Germain or Olympique Marseille will come calling.


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