MLSsoccer.com continues its look back at the stars, personalities and cult heroes who made Major League Soccer what it is today. Our third annual “What Ever Happened To..." series rolls on with one of the early legends of MLS, Marco Etcheverry.
Where He Was Then
Two years after he led Bolivia to what was their last World Cup appearance, Marco Antonio Etcheverry wrote living history in the early days of Major League Soccer, helping D.C. United become a powerhouse. During eight seasons with the club, the crafty midfielder won three MLS Cups (1996, ’97 and ’99), one US Open Cup (’96), one CONCACAF Champions’ Cup and a Copa Interamericana (’98). He was named MLS MVP in 1998, and became part of the MLS All-Time XI.
In 191 matches with D.C., “El Diablo” scored 32 goals and dished out 101 assists, most of them to his Bolivia teammate, former MLS goalscoring king Jaime Moreno. United’s roster back then was a cavalcade of stars – John Harkes, Eddie Pope, Jeff Agoos, Roy Lassiter and Raúl Díaz Arce, to name a few – but Etcheverry was the driving force behind the dynasty.
Where He Is Now
Once part of Bolivia’s “Golden Generation,” Etcheverry is happily returning to the fold under his former manager from USA ‘94. Xabier Azkargorta is back in charge of the Bolivian national team, and the Spaniard has invited El Diablo to join his staff.
Etcheverry has some coaching chops, including stints as the manager of Bolivian club Oriente Petrolero and Ecuadorian side Aucas. He's been in charge of the Bolivian U-15s since September of 2011 and will continue to do so as he transitions up to the senior level.
“I’ll be starting my new role with Azkargorta in the next few days,” Etcheverry, now 42, reports from his hometown of Santa Cruz. “He asked me for a lot of things, which I’ll gladly do, hoping to achieve the expectations put on me. The national team is the best honor.”
Aside from his coaching duties, Etcheverry enjoys playing exhibition games with the 1994 team, and traveling around his country. But when he looks back on a long, decorated playing career, the MLS memories remain some of his favorites. And he remains grateful for the opportunity with D.C. United, even though he admits the beginning didn’t go as he expected.
“We started off with the wrong foot,” he recalls. “We lost about seven consecutive games [ed. note: D.C. lost seven of their first nine games in 1996]. We had a good team, good coach, but nothing was working for us. If it had been in another country, things would have gone down. It was tough, but in the end, we won the Cup in 1996 and we showed we were the best team.”
Of all the titles he conquered during his eight seasons in MLS, Etcheverry holds a special fondness for that 1998 Copa Interamericana title – somewhat of a footnote among D.C.’s trophy closet but one the former No. 10 believes was a great achievement for North American soccer.
The now defunct tournament pitted the winners of South America’s Copa Libertadores against the winners of the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup, and D.C. outlasted Rio de Janeiro power club Vasco da Gama 2-1 on aggregate. That Brazilian side featured a lineup of big names, including Carlos Germano, Mauro Galvão, Donizete, Guilherme, Luizão and a young Juninho Pernambucano, who joined the New York Red Bulls this offseason.
“We were, in a way, the best team in the Americas by defeating Vasco da Gama, who had just lost the Intercontinental Cup against Real Madrid,” Etcheverry says. “We showed we were at a higher level.”
Etcheverry has no doubt that he left behind a legacy to kids who grew up watching him play in MLS.
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“We did the dirty work, [along with] with ‘El Pibe’ [Carlos Valderrama], [Jorge] Campos, [Roberto] Donadoni – extraordinary players. But in the end, we couldn’t be there today in MLS to keep inspiring young talent.”
And that comment more than anything hints at a bit of melancholy for how it ended. Even though he flies back and forth often between Santa Cruz and his adoptive home of Washington, El Diablo hasn’t set foot in RFK Stadium since Moreno’s farewell match in 2010.
To hear him tell it, United's refusal to match an offer from a Saudi Arabian club after the 2003 season created a rift between him and the D.C. front office. He went on to serve as a club ambassador for a time after that, but as of today has no official relationship with D.C. That makes the one question Etcheverry is often asked a difficult one to answer: Why is he not more involved with United?
“I also ask myself the same question,” he sighs. “But that’s how soccer is. Honestly, I’m not looking for anything. I have a lot of love for D.C. and their fan base. But I do understand that is not an obligation from anyone for me to be there. I have a lot of respect for ‘Benito’ [head coach Ben Olsen] – we have always had a great friendship and will always respect him. While he is in charge, I will always support him.”
What They Said
“I’ve known Marco since my first cap with the national team in the 1991 Copa América. Since then, we have always had an amazing friendship. We then met at D.C. and my arrival to the club was so quick, I don’t think he was even expecting it. Marco means titles, and with him, we had the best years in D.C. Today, soccer is different and is not as exquisite as it was before. Marco used to put that exquisite touch to the game and to D.C.”
– Former club and country mate Jaime Moreno