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Why it took so long for the Revolution to sign Cristhian Machado

Cristhian Machado
(Courtesy of New England Revolution)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Revolution’s quest to acquire Cristhian Machado will go down as one of the longest pursuits in club history.

Machado officially signed with New England via free transfer on July 23 – almost nine months after the club first made contact with the Bolivian midfielder, who has a green card and has since said the move is a dream come true.

Even Revolution head coach Brad Friedel spoke about the long wait to sign Machado, including when the club officially announced the transaction.

“Every deal has [its] own little anecdotes to it,” Friedel said last week. “Sometimes you can agree on a transfer fee, sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you can agree on wages, sometimes you can’t. It’s all different. I’m not one to ever tell anybody what goes on in each specific deal, but no deal, even free transfer signings, are ever straightforward.

“It just took a long time to get over the line. Some deals that you think will happen in the next hour don’t happen for months and months and months, and some deals you never thought could happen, happen quickly.”

One of the most remarkable things about the transfer is what’s being said about Machado’s departure in Bolivia.

Machado, 28, joined the Revolution from Jorge Wilstermann, the reigning and 14-time Bolivian champion.

Marcelo Neveleff, who joined the Revolution as an assistant coach last November, coached Machado at Wilstermann in 2011. Neveleff told Pro Soccer USA he was impressed by Machado’s skill and lobbied for Wilstermann officials to renew the player’s contract despite their reservations.

 

Neveleff — a former technical advisor for U.S. Soccer who has more than 10 years of coaching in experience in Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil, and the United States — continued to monitor Machado as his career progressed. He even made an attempt to bring Machado to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, formerly of the North American Soccer League, in 2015. The Strikers were unable to afford Wilstermann’s asking price despite hosting the player for one month, according to Neveleff.

“One of the things that appealed to us at Fort Lauderdale, when I took over, was that Cristhian would not take up a foreign spot,” Neveleff told Pro Soccer USA, citing Machado’s green card, which he has through his parents who live in Virginia.

However, Neveleff knew Machado had the quality and international experience to be a boon for the team. Once he arrived in Foxborough, Neveleff made another attempt to bring Machado into the U.S. 

“We remained in contact,” Neveleff said. “His name was one of the names I brought to Brad, and Cristhian told me he would like to come, for the challenge, for the league. He also has a green card to reside here for citizenship. He has always wanted to come.”

Jun 14, 2016; Seattle, WA; Argentina forward Sergio Aguero (11) passes away from a double team from Bolivia midfielder Cristhian Machado (16) and defender Erwin Saavedra (2) during the group play stage of the 2016 Copa America Centenario. Argentina defeated Bolivia, 3-0. (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

The speed bump in the transfer came in late December.

The Revolution declined to comment on transfer negotiations or contract specifics with regard to the delay in getting Machado to Boston. However, Machado is on record telling Los Tiempos, a newspaper based in Cochabamba, Bolivia, that he had his plane ticket to Boston booked and was ready to fly before backing out at the last minute due to the length of the contract New England wanted him to sign.

Machado told the paper he was expecting a two-year deal or a loan, not a four-year deal the Revolution reportedly presented him.

A source with direct knowledge of Machado’s current contract with Major League Soccer said the player is on the books through the end of the 2018 season with three option years.

Additionally, Machado still had three years left on his Wilstermann contract in December. He filed a dispute to grant him release from his contract, and the club and the player eventually agreed to mutual termination. Two sources, not affiliated with the Revolution, confirmed Wilstermann ate $80,000 of the $150,000 remaining on Machado’s contract to enable him to transfer to New England.

In the aftermath of the transfer, Wilstermann president Grover Vargas said he felt hurt and cheated by Machado, but also said Wilstermann and Machado agreed that he must return to the club if he ever goes back to Bolivia. Meanwhile, Bolivian media speculated on reasons why the player, who had been with Wilstermann since 2008, would have wanted to leave his boyhood club.

The Revolution, for their tenaciousness, have added what many in Cochabamba believe to be one of the top active Bolivian players.

“Cristhian Machado was a vital part of the Wilstermann team,” a Bolivian source told Pro Soccer USA. “He was central to the team and was very well-liked by supporters here, though most of them feel sad and betrayed to see him leave. He had recently played for Bolivia in many important national team fixtures.”

Machado has three national team caps to his name, having played in the Copa America Centenario and in the last World Cup qualification cycle.

Though the club announced Machado as someone who could play in both midfield and on the back line, Neveleff said Tuesday that defensive midfield is the player’s best position.

“He’s a very good defensive midfielder, very good box-to-box and he likes to win back possession and get the ball to someone that will make a play,” Neveleff said. “He has a very good long range shot too, but I think he will be strong for us when we lose the ball.”

Machado made his brief MLS debut in Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Orlando City, subbing on for Diego Fagúndez in the 87th minute. 

Now, with his sining saga complete, the Revolution can focus on others before the close of MLS’ secondary transfer window Aug. 8. And Friedel said Tuesday he expects to announce another player before then.

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