As sensational and groundbreaking as the Seattle Sounders’ recent Concacaf Champions League triumph was, Marco Etcheverry has a reminder for anyone who may have forgotten about the achievements of the outstanding late-1990s D.C. United sides he led to three MLS Cups, two Supporters' Shields, a US Open Cup and a CONCACAF Champions Cup, capped by a Copa Interamericana win over Vasco da Gama in 1998.
“We were actually the best team in all of North, Central and South America,” the Bolivian legend noted in Spanish in a Monday media availability ahead of his induction into the National Soccer Hall of Fame on Saturday. “I think it was not only important for D.C., for me personally and for MLS, but for soccer in the United States.”
That honor ranks highly among the many memories “El Diablo” made during his time in MLS, where he not only anchored the league’s first dynasty but blazed a trail as one of several high-profile foreign imports who brought quality and recognition to the fledgling startup.
"Everyone came with great enthusiasm"
It’s a legacy he treasures as he prepares to accept a place in the Hall many believe is long overdue.
“I am very happy that we were the first, the pioneers of this MLS project … For me to come to this league – the biggest country in the world, the most powerful country in the world, it can't be that it doesn't have professional soccer,” recalled Etcheverry, who joined United at the dawn of MLS in 1996 after stints with Albacete in Spain, Chilean powers Colo-Colo and Colombian giants América de Cali.
“So it was a dream, to collaborate, to be part of giving soccer here in the United States a boost. Everyone came with great enthusiasm, great passion to play soccer here.”
A four-time MLS Best XI selection and the league MVP in 1998, Etcheverry is also a member of the MLS All-Time Best XI named in 2005 as well as 2020’s “The 25 Greatest presented by AT&T.” The old-school No. 10 delivered both wins and style for D.C. with his vision, creativity and wicked left foot, helping the Black-and-Red draw some of the young league’s largest and most passionate crowds to RFK Stadium.
“Honestly,” said Etcheverry, “if you ask Tab Ramos, Alexi Lalas, Tony Meola – all of the players from that generation who were brilliant and made history for the U.S. – ask them who had the best fans, they'd all say the same thing: ‘Going to Washington is difficult, playing in D.C. is difficult. The ground shakes at RFK.’”
"It is at another level"
After working with the Bolivian federation for several years, he has lately turned his focus to new youth player development projects Stateside and sounds interested in exploring opportunities in MLS. Noting the complexity of building a professional landscape on North America’s massive scale, he saluted the leaders who helped grow what was a fragile league of 10 teams when he arrived into today’s thriving network of 29 clubs and academies across the United States and Canada.
“These people have done extraordinary things and I think it has an outstanding Commissioner, Don Garber. What it is since he arrived, he has done everything, something without limit, and it continues to grow,” said Etcheverry. “The organization, punctuality, infrastructure, technology and all the structure that MLS has made is spectacular. It is at another level.”
"Dreams can come true"
His attacking chemistry with his countryman Jaime Moreno was particularly iconic, and one year after the longtime United striker asked Etcheverry to induct him into the Hall of Fame, Moreno will return the favor on Saturday at FC Dallas’ Toyota Stadium.
But first, Etcheverry revealed, he’s been invited by United to make an appearance at Audi Field, the club’s new home, to salute fans at Wednesday night’s match vs. New York City FC. It’s a well-deserved tribute and a fitting prelude to this weekend’s festivities in Frisco, Texas.
“I am proud of my work,” the 51-year-old said, “and I am only grateful to all the people who made it possible for me to receive this.
“Dreams can come true,” Etcheverry added later. “So for me it is the greatest pride I have had, to be able to receive recognition in this way. … I already told a [journalist] before, now I can die in peace because I’ve received the maximum recognition in life. So for me it is something spectacular.”
He and his fellow 2022 inductees Clint Dempsey, Shannon Boxx, Hope Solo, Linda Hamilton and Esse Baharmast will be honored in a ceremony at Toyota Stadium on Saturday, followed by a Zac Brown Band and Robert Randolph Band concert that night and FCD’s match vs. Minnesota United Sunday evening.