Born in Kyiv 28th August, 1977, Dmytro ‘Dema’ Kovalenko, is a retired Ukrainian footballer, who played in midfield and is well known for his full bloodied commitment and his winning mentality.
As with many young promising footballers in Ukraine at the time ‘Dema’ found himself honing his skills from the age of 10 in the Dynamo Kyiv youth system. His career however, took a very different turn from what he may have envisaged, as at the age of 14, after a Dynamo Kyiv youth team tour of USA, his parents made the decision to emigrate to USA. It is this time at Dynamo however, that Kovalenko says made him the player he was. It is also in Ukraine, where Kovalenko developed his must win attitude from his father.
He moved to the US in 1992, and went on to further develop his skills and represent Indiana University at College Soccer level. He was very influential here and help the Indian Hoosiers win the National Championships in 1998. His impressive performances led to him being named in the National Collegiate Athletic Association – All-American First Team.
Despite being chosen to play for Dallas Burn, Kovalenko wanted to play for Chicago Fire, and this request was negotiated and finally granted. In his first season Kovalenko was used sparingly, only featuring in 11 games. He did score 3 goals, although his first season will unfortunatley be remembered for a dangerous tackle which left Brandon Pollard with a career ending broken leg. His next season was far more successful. Playing in an attacking midfield role, Kovalenko scored 10 goals (his career best) and helped Chicago win the US Open Cup. More goals continued in 2001 and he was named in the MLS All-Star Team, for the first time in his career.
After the 2001 season, Kovalenko was given the opportunity to return to Europe and try his hand in a major league joining Bundesliga side, St. Pauli. The move was only temporary however, and Kovalenko found himself returning to America, drafted by Eastern Conference side DC United. Kovalenko became an influential player for DC, however in a cruel twist of fate; another full hearted challenge caused serious injury to another Dallas Burn player. Kovalenko also received a red card in The Championship Game; however it was not to the detriment of DC as they went onto win anyway. In the 2004 season, DC won both the MLS Cup and the Eastern Conference Championship, with Dema playing a key role. Later in his career, Dema would say that winning the MLS Cup, was one of his proudest moments. The 2004 season was also a personal highlight as he registered his highest number of assists (10). Despite missing the beginning of the 2005 season as a result of a broken foot, he still played a significant part for DC and was a valuable player.
This was to be his last season for DC as they were unable to agree terms on a new contract. At the start of 2006, Kovalenko returned to his native Ukraine, where he joined Metalurg Zaporizhya on a deal to the end of the season. The move did not work out however, and Kovalenko returned to the MLS where he joined New York Red Bulls. He was a major player for the Red Bulls and had the team challenging in the Eastern Conference, however injuries halted his season and the Red Bulls challenge diminished. From the New York Red Bulls, Kovalenko was traded to Real Salt Lake City where he played out a season before joining his final club Los Angeles Galaxy.
He enjoyed success at LA Galaxy. Playing alongside household names David Beckham and Landon Donovan, Kovalenko fitted into the team in a more defensive role, putting his tenacity to good use. With the Galaxy he won the 2009 MLS Western Conference Championship, and the 2010 MLS Supporters shield.
After being released from the Galaxy, Kovalenko entered the re-draft but was unable to a team that would match his demands, after some consideration and citing injury concerns, Kovalenko decided to retire. On retiring he said that although his reputation as being a brutal player may precede him, he wanted to be remembered as “a hard worker, someone who always sacrificed for the team, who always wanted to win so badly”. In 12 years of MLS football, Kovalenko reached the play-offs every season and he won virtually every piece of silverware he could in the USA.
Despite having impressive form throughout his career, Dema was unfortunate never to be picked for the Ukrainian National Side.
We gladly induct Dema Kovalenko, the gallant warrior, into the Viktor Leonenko Hall of Fame.
Profile by Peter Chymera, committee member of the UK Ukrainian Sports Supporters Club and Co-founder of the Viktor Leonenko Hall of Fame. Follow Peter on twitter – @PMChymera89