WASHINGTON – It takes an enterprising player to leave behind an 18-year-career in one’s homeland and cross the ocean to join a last-place team in an unfamiliar land, especially when there’s no lavish hype or Designated Player wages waiting for you.
Carlos Varela won league titles, played on many of Europe’s biggest stages and experienced the rarified air of UEFA Champions League competition during his lengthy career in the Swiss first division. But in joining D.C. United at the tail end of a wearisome campaign, the 33-year-old has taken on an entirely new sort of challenge.
Born in Switzerland to Spanish parents, comfortable in five languages (and already building his English skills), Varela is the living embodiment of modern Europe’s cosmopolitan ways. United have been looking towards next season for months and signing a player of his age at this point might seem inconsistent with that process.
But his efforts in a three-week trial impressed the DC technical staff enough to secure his services now before he returns to the continent to join another club, and he hopes to use United’s final five matches to lay his claim for a role in next year’s squad.
Varela recently shared his thoughts on that and many other topics in a wide-ranging interview with MLSsoccer.com.
MLSsoccer.com: Why did you make the move to MLS?
Varela: After 15 years of experience in Europe, I wanted to see what MLS was about. People are talking a lot about MLS in Europe these days, a lot of big-name players are coming over. I wanted to see that for myself. For me, it was an easy decision.
MLSsoccer.com: What had you heard about MLS before your arrival?
Varela: It’s always the same: physically good but technically and tactically, a little behind Europe. Now that I’m here, I see that there’s not that much of a difference. I’m impressed with that part of it.
MLSsoccer.com: Talk about your professional background for a moment.
Varela: I began professionally at 17 years old, at Servette. Then Basel, with Champions League, Young Boys Bern with UEFA Cup. I had luck – always in the top two, top three, and five championships.
MLSsoccer.com: You’ve spent your life in Switzerland, but your identity is more Spanish, right?
Varela: I’m 100 percent Spanish. My father and mother are from Spain but went to Switzerland – there’s many people from Italy, Germany and Spain. A lot of people emigrated over to Switzerland during the 1950s, when life was difficult in Spain. My parents went over there to work.
MLSsoccer.com: What are your early impressions of D.C. United?
Varela: When I saw the facilities of the club, I was very impressed. The club has everything that you need to do a great job and work. So I was very impressed with the facilities.
MLSsoccer.com: But isn’t it a challenge to join a last-placed side?
Varela: To be honest with you, I know that they’ve had a tough season, but I didn’t really look at the record. I’ve been a professional since I was 15 – I always look forward, and I look forward to integrating myself into the club and getting to know my teammates, and trying to help them.
In Europe when you talk about MLS, the first club that comes to mind is D.C. United, because of the four cups. They don’t talk about the losing streak, they talk about a big-name club. So you have to respect the jersey and that’s what I’m here to do.
MLSsoccer.com: What are your attributes as a player?
Varela: I’m an offensive-minded player. I can play on the right, left or also I can play in the middle. I feel that I’m multi-functional.
MLSsoccer.com: Your first United match was against David Beckham and the first-place LA Galaxy. Was there additional excitement because of that occasion?
Varela: [Shrugs] I faced Beckham in Manchester, in the Champions League. It was 2003, when Basel made some history, beating some big-name clubs in the Champions League. For me, my character, it’s important to win. One minute, 90 minutes – for me. it’s the same. Who plays or doesn’t play, it doesn’t matter.
MLSsoccer.com: How do you approach the final stretch of this season?
Varela: Obviously for any player coming into a new team, it’s a difficult situation because there’s not many games left. But I’m a professional player. I have to be able to see what the coach wants from me and how my teammates play. That’s very important.
As for next season, I don’t know what’s going to happen, I’ll just try to do the best this year that I can, and see where we go from there. From my first impressions of the club, I’ve loved it so far and I would love to come back.
MLSsoccer.com: Finally, just how many languages do you speak?
Varela: In Switzerland we have German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, a little bit of Italian – but for now, English is important. Five good ones, and now I have to learn the sixth one.