United, They Stay: High-Scoring Trio Shuns Big-Dollar Offers, Gives D.C. a Leg Up on Major League Soccer
Cohn, Bob, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Marco Etcheverry loves it here.
For the D.C. United captain and Major League Soccer most valuable player, life is good. He has his house in Herndon, five minutes from team headquarters. He has his soccer academy in four locations. And he has a rock-solid belief in the future of MLS. Maybe most important, his son doesn't have to fly anymore.
Compared to all that, what's a few extra hundred thousand dollars?
Whether to stay or go is the key, career-turning question confronting the better players under contract to MLS, players such as Etcheverry and teammates Jaime Moreno and Eddie Pope.
Stay means to remain in the United States as part of a league still experiencing growing pains after four years, amid a fan environment more supportive of baseball, basketball and the king of American sports, football.
Go means go away - to South America or Europe or Asia - and compete at a higher level where their sport is No. 1 while, not incidentally, making a whole lot more money.
MLS calls itself America's fifth major professional sports league, but there are vast differences in how the soccer league is run, including this: When an MLS player changes teams, he often changes countries.
It's a tough call. For the time being, Etcheverry, Moreno and Pope have made it: Stay.
"All I need now is for my family to be happy," said Etcheverry, who has three children.
Etcheverry, 29, said he turned down offers in the last two years - very good offers - to play in France and Japan. He makes considerably more than the league's reported $250,000 maximum, but he could do much better elsewhere.
It's not always about money.
"I try to put everything in balance," the midfielder said. "How would it be for my family? My kid, Michael, he's 9 years old and he started flying with me in 1991 to Spain from Bolivia. He was 1. He's never been in one place for more than two years. Now he has good friends. . . . It was very tough for him."
An original member of D.C. United, which faced the Miami Fusion last night in the opening game of the MLS conference semifinals, Etcheverry was born in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. There, at the age of 8, he first attended the prestigious Tahuichi Soccer Academy. He was so grateful for how the experience molded him into a player that he started the Academia de Futbol Marco Etcheverry, which has four locations in the District, Maryland and Virginia. The schools further cement Etcheverry's commitment to this area.
"It's nice to play here," he said. "There are good facilities, and now the American people are becoming crazy with soccer. I wanted to help the league become a big part of people's lives."
Moreno, whose wife, Louise, is expecting their second child and Moreno's third, also cites family matters.
"The family's the most important thing," said the 25-year-old forward who is United's career leader in goals. "They're settled. They love it here. It's just a great life. You can't have a better life than this."
Moreno signed with United during the 1996 season. He was playing for Middlesborough of the English Premier League, and while he enjoyed living there (it's where he met Louise), he was struggling on the field. Since then his play has improved dramatically, and some believe he would be an instant star in France or Spain or South America - with an earnings potential of millions.
Moreno, who also is from Santa Cruz and is a Tahuichi alumnus, will continue to weigh his options in the future. But he has agreed to a long-term contract with MLS. That wouldn't preclude him from jumping to another league, but right now, he says all that's on his mind is D.C. United.
The only American-born player of the three United stars, Eddie Pope has become one of the league's preeminent defensemen after a collegiate career at North Carolina. …