D.C. United's legendary Bolivian playmaker Marco Etcheverry edged Colombian assist wizard Carlos Valderrama as the best international player in the history of Major League Soccer in a poll conducted on MLSnet.com. Twenty-six percent of fans that responded to the 10th season celebratory poll selected El Diablo as tops, Valderrama earning 21 percent for second place.
The ties to D.C. United continued in the third and fifth positions, their current head coach Peter Nowak (Poland), who played five seasons with the Chicago Fire, picking up 15 percent for the third spot while another long-time standout for the Black-and-Red, Jaime Moreno (also from Bolivia), took home fifth place with 9 percent. FC Dallas striker Carlos Ruiz of Guatemala squeezed between Nowak and Moreno with 12 percent to earn fourth place on the list.
Etcheverry's wizardry helped make D.C. United the cream of the MLS crop during his eight seasons in the nation's capital as the club won numerous trophies during his tenure, including three MLS Cups, a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and an Interamerican Cup. Etcheverry appeared in nearly 200 regular season games for the Black-and-Red scoring 34 goals and amassing 101 assists. He also tallied three times in the MLS Cup Playoffs and provided 13 postseason assists. He earned Honda MLS MVP honors in 1998, received MLS Goal of the Year honors in 1999 for a 50-yard strike and he was named to the Radio Shack MLS Best XI four times (1996-1999).
It's no surprise that Etcheverry and Valderrama would finish in the top two spots, as the Colombian also produced incredible numbers and received several accolades during his stint in the league. Known worldwide for both his passing abilities and blonde mane-like locks, Valderrama was one of the best creators ever to play in MLS. He racked up an amazing 114 assists in 175 regular season games with the Tampa Bay Mutiny, Miami Fusion and Colorado Rapids, while scoring 16 on his own. He also notched one goal in the MLS Cup Playoffs and provided the final pass on three others. He still owns the record for most assists in a season (26 in 2000) and was named to the MLS Best XI in 1996, 1997 and 2000.
Nowak joined the Chicago Fire for their inaugural season in 1998 and he helped them capture an MLS Cup championship and U.S. Open Cup championship that year with six goals and 12 assists. He would amass 26 goals and 48 assists in regular season play before retiring after the 2002 campaign. Nowak accepted the D.C. United head coaching position prior to the 2004 season and again won a championship in his first season on the job, leading the Black-and-Red to their fourth title in nine years but first since 1999.
Ruiz has proven to be one of the most potent strikers ever in MLS. The Guatemalan has struck 57 times in 83 career games, not including his incredible postseason production that has seen him score 11 times in as many games. He was a member of the MLS Best XI and the Honda MLS MVP in 2002 and when he scored 24 goals to help the Los Angeles Galaxy win their first-ever MLS Cup, while he also was named the MVP of the Sierra Mist MLS All-Star Game as the side defeated CD Guadalajara at The Home Depot Center. Ruiz also led the league in scoring the following season with 15 goals.
Rounding out the top five was Moreno, a 10-year veteran of MLS. He joined United midway through the first season in 1996. He has been there ever since, except for a one-year, injury-plagued season in 2003 as a member of the MetroStars. Moreno has scored 85 goals and added 70 assists in 203 MLS games. He was a member of the Radio Shack MLS Best XI in 1997, 1999 and 2004. His 16 goals in 1997 were tops in the league.
Other foreign players that received votes in the poll were Hristo Stoitchkov (Bulgaria, three percent), Lubos Kubik (Czech Republic, one percent), Mauricio Cienfuegos (El Salvador, three percent), Raul Diaz Arce (El Salvador, one percent), Amado Guevara (Honduras, five percent) and Mo Johnston (Scotland, two percent).
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.