Marco Antonio Etcheverry Vargas, or El Diablo as he is more succinctly and affectionately known, is a true football pioneer. His influence extends far beyond Bolivia - where he is popularly considered his country's best-ever player - all the way to the USA.

It was there that he helped in the unlikely endeavour of turning the American mainstream on to the sport.

The mullet-haired playmaker, who took his first steps in football as a boy at the fabled Tahuichi academy, first burst on to the world scene in 1994. After steering Bolivia to an unlikely FIFA World Cup™ finals appearance, courtesy of famous qualifying wins over Brazil and Uruguay, he was sent off just three minutes after coming on against Germany in his first game at USA 1994.

Two years later Etcheverry was back in the States as part of a band of world stars brought in to help promote football in a land dominated by other sports, and inspire a legion of unlikely fans to embrace Major League Soccer in its inaugural season.

"I was one of the pioneering players of the league," Etcheverry recently told FIFA Magazine. "Myself, (Carlos) Valderrama, (Roberto) Donadoni and Jorge Campos travelled everywhere to be with the fans and sign autographs in the hope that Americans would grow to love the sport."

Scoring 13 goals in 71 appearances for his beloved Bolivia, El Diablo went on to become one of the most famous players in American club history and an icon at DC United. He led the capital club to a dynastic dominance of the early years of MLS with three titles (1996, 1997 and 1999). He was also named the competition's MVP in 1998 and netted a club second-best 34 goals in 191 games for United.

Although Etcheverry also played in Spain and won league titles in Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador, he will forever be connected to the fortunes of DC United. After his playing career ground to a halt at age 35, he predictably went on to become an ambassador for the club, before considering a future in coaching.

Etcheverry currently makes his home in the sprawling rural suburbs of West Virginia, enjoying relative anonymity among his few neighbours. But far from putting his feet up and shining over the glory days, he continues to help build football in his adoptive US as assistant coach for the U-20 national team.

Tahuichi know-how
After 12 years in the States, El Diablo speaks fluent English and is an effective recruiter for the national youth team, which, alongside Major League Soccer, is an effective pipeline for developing talent.

His experience from the early days at Tahuichi up through the FIFA World Cup of 1994 proves invaluable to USA U-20 head coach Thomas Rongen, who was Etcheverry's boss at DC United in 1999. "I travel all over with the U-20 team," said the 37-year-old, who earned his full coaching badges in 2000 after two years of on-field and course work. "I am learning a lot about what it takes to build a team and find talent."

Etcheverry is hoping the experience serves him well and a return to his homeland may well be on the cards. Club coaching offers are already coming in, the last one from former side Oriente Petrolero. And even though he is not keen on uprooting his family (he has four children, some of whom have grown up in the States), he is open to a head-coaching position.

"A job at a first-division club in Bolivia would be a good opportunity but I like my job here too," said Etcheverry, who received the Medal of Merit from Bolivia's parliament in 2006. "The US youth team is a major force and I am busy travelling and contributing to their preparations [for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009]."

Etcheverry also had a stint as a commentator for Ecuadorian television during the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany, but he readily admits his place is on the pitch. A hero in both Bolivia - where he still maintains a cattle ranch north of Santa Cruz - and the USA, his legacy is safe and his future wide open.

"When I first came to the US, there were no pitches and no stadiums had been built for football. Now though you see pitches everywhere and they are always in use. There's a real passion for the game in the USA now and it's something no one could have predicted," the Bolivian concluded.