Marco Etcheverry Elected to National Soccer Hall of Fame
What an appropriate a nickname for a talented midfielder who bedeviled the opposition countless times during his illustrious career. Better known to the world as Marco Etcheverry, the Bolivian international provided countless heroics for club and country.
American soccer fans, especially those who lived around the nation’s capital, appreciated his efforts during an eight-year career with D.C. United. The mainstay of Major League Soccer’s first dynasty, Etcheverry led the team to three of its first four MLS Cups. Included in those spoils were the 1998 Champions League and Copa Interamericana titles and the 1996 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
He helped establish standards for his team and the league that will be difficult to duplicate or surpass.
“He wants to be a part of making this league work, and I think he is a model for what a foreign player can be,” National Soccer Hall of Famer and current New England Revolution head coach Bruce Arena said in 1998. Arena directed United in its first three seasons.
“Some guys have come here on vacation, but he has come here to make the league better and to work on his game,” Arena told Soccer Magazine. “That is a special quality that we haven’t seen in a lot of foreign players in this league.”
When he entered the field, Etcheverry grabbed fans’ attention with his well-known mullet. Then he earned their admiration with his scintillating performance.
“I live from soccer, and I live for soccer,” he told Soccer America in 1998. “My life is soccer, and if I need to practice longer to get better, I am going to do it. Anything I can do to make the team better. I love soccer and I don’t do it out of necessity anymore, but my body needs soccer.”
Etcheverry and his body of work have been honored many times.
He was named to the MLS All-Time Best XI in 2005 and was selected as one of the best 25 players for the league’s silver anniversary in 2020. The league’s 1998 MVP, Etcheverry was named to the Best XI for the first four seasons, won goal of the year twice (1997, 1999) and was the 2002 All-Star Game MVP.
He was inducted into United’s Hall of Tradition (2007), the Virginia-D.C. Soccer Hall of Fame (2008) and the D.C. Sports Hall of Fame (2016). He also was awarded the Order of Merit by the Bolivian government (2006). On May 21, Etcheverry will receive one more high honor when he is enshrined in the National Soccer Hall of Fame during ceremonies in Frisco, Texas.
Etcheverry, born in Santa Cruz de la Sierra on Sept. 26, 1970, played for Tahuichi Academy, one of the best-known youth clubs in the world. His family lived within walking distance of the academy, although he ran to the field each morning with boys from his neighborhood. He played with Tahuichi between the ages of 8 and 16.
“The academy was the key to everything for me,” Etcheverry told Soccer Magazine in 1998. “For eight years, it was like a second home for me. Everything I know about soccer comes from there.”
Etcheverry worked his way up the professional ranks, playing with Destroyers and Bolivar in his native country, Albacete (Spain) and Colo-Colo (Chile). Breaking into the national team in 1989, Etcheverry became the team’s playmaker, occasional goal-scorer (13 goals in 71 appearances) and leader.
His most important international goal came in a 2-0 victory over Brazil in La Paz, Bolivia, in 1993, the first FIFA World Cup qualifying loss suffered by the perennial powerhouse in the 1994 competition. That result also went a long way in helping Bolivia reach its first World Cup since 1950.
A knee injury threatened to keep Etcheverry out of the 1994 World Cup in the United States, but he worked himself back into shape.
Unfortunately, Etcheverry’s presence in that competition was short and sweet. Only four minutes after entering the opening match as a 79th-minute substitute, he was red carded for kicking German captain Lothar Matthaeus in a 1-0 defeat.
Etcheverry, who served a two-match suspension, was apologetic.
“All I can say is, ‘I’m sorry,’” he said in the Los Angeles Times. “I can’t say whether I did or not. I think it will be very clear [on television replays] that I did it. But for me the most important thing to me is to apologize to the public because they were waiting for a good show and today, I failed.”
He never played in another World Cup encounter as Bolivia failed to reach the knockout stage. Two years later, however, the midfielder returned to the U.S. for a much longer stay. He went on a mission to make amends for that ejection.
In the 1996 season, Etcheverry scored four goals and assisted on 19 others, leading United to the inaugural MLS Cup Playoffs. His three most important assists came during an incredible 21-minute span in the first championship game, which was played during a Nor'easter at Foxboro Stadium in Massachusetts on Oct. 20, 1996.
With United seemingly on the way to a 2-0 defeat to the LA Galaxy, Etcheverry produced some magic that turned the game on its head with a legendary comeback. He sent a left-wing cross to second-half sub Tony Sanneh, who headed the ball home in the 73rd minute. After an Etcheverry free kick, Shawn Medved fired a shot that goalkeeper Jorge Campos punched back to the midfielder, who slotted home the equalizer in the 81st minute. In the fourth minute of sudden-death extra time, defender Eddie Pope headed in the Bolivian’s corner kick to lift D.C. to a historic triumph.
“D.C. restarts have been a thorn in our side all year,” Galaxy head coach Lothar Osiander told the media. “Etcheverry’s free kicks are difficult to defend against.”
In 1998, Etcheverry raised his game to higher levels, striking for a career-high 10 goals. Six came via free kicks. Everyone had a different story, but the same ending: into the back of net.
One memorable goal came in a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Mutiny on July 29, 1998. Instead of giving Etcheverry the required 10 yards to shoot, the referee allowed the Mutiny’s six-man wall to line up only six yards away. Instead of getting mad, Etcheverry got even, curling a shot over the right side of the wall and leaving Sweden international goalkeeper Thomas Ravelli flatfooted on the goal line.
He finished that season tying his 1996 total with 19 assists while earning league MVP honors.
“Over the past three years, Marco Etcheverry has proved to be the finest player in Major League Soccer and arguably the top player in each of the first three seasons,” Arena told Soccer America at the time. “He has clearly been our leader and our top player on the field, and now he’s receiving the same accolades on a league level.”
In 1999, Etcheverry accrued four goals and 17 assists, helping D.C. to its third title in four years.
He continued to showcase his ability to turn dead-ball situations into goals, as his long throw-in started the scoring sequence for D.C.’s opening tally in its 2-0 win over the Galaxy in the 1999 MLS Cup. That goal was scored by National Soccer Hall of Famer Jaime Moreno, whom Etchverry introduced for induction last year.
By the time he completed his United tenure in 2003, Etcheverry had amassed 34 goals and 101 assists in 191 matches.
Etcheverry returned to Bolivar in 2004 to finish his career.
There was little doubt he has been a winner. United loaned Etcheverry to Barcelona (Ecuador) in 1997, and Oriente Petrolero (Bolivia) in 2001; those teams won a championship each time.
Since he hung up his boots, Etcheverry’s pursuits have included scouting for the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team and working as a commentator for Ecuadorian television, including the 2006 FIFA World Cup. He created the Marco Antonio Etcheverry Soccer Academy, now known as the Charlotte Queen Academy, which was modeled after Tahuichi.
“I enjoy teaching kids the game,” he told the Washington Business Journal in 2000. “But more than soccer, we want to teach them self-esteem and responsibility.”
Marco Etcheverry has been doing that for years — on and off the field.