On Friday afternoon, Fernando Clavijo passed away after a five-year battle with multiple myeloma.
Clavijo, 63, served as techicnal director for FC Dallas and was a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Born in Maldonado, Uruguay, he earned 61 caps for the U.S. national team and played a key role on the 1994 World Cup team, which helped catapult soccer in the United States.
Clavijo, also brought the New England Revolution some of their initial successes and injected the organization with optimism after four years of discouraging results at the franchise’s onset. He helped lay the foundation for the team’s emergence among the best teams in MLS in the 2000s.
He was head coach for several Revolution firsts: a .500 record and playoff victory in his initial season as head coach in 2000; an appearance in a cup final, the 2001 U.S. Open Cup; and the first sporting event at Gillette Stadium, a 2-0 victory over the Dallas Burn on May 11, 2002. Two weeks after the win over Dallas, Clavijo was fired, but many of the players he had signed played a part in the New England’s advancement to MLS Cup finals in 2002 and 2005-07.
The Revolution’s first four seasons had produced few positives, leading the team to restructure under the guidance of Sunil Gulati as director of Kraft Soccer. Gulati, eventual U.S. Soccer president, hired Clavijo, and the move paid off. New England went 13-13-6 and then took the Chicago Fire to three games in a best-of-three playoff series in 2000. But the Revolution’s vulnerabilities were exposed in a 6-0 defeat in Game 3, and Clavijo decided to revamp the squad.
During the 2001 preseason, Clavijo brought in 20 players from 11 countries and was still on the road recruiting in the days leading up to the season.
“I don’t want to just have a good team,” Clavijo said at the time. “I want to win the championship.”
Clavijo was probably being overly ambitious at a time when there was little flexibility in compiling an MLS roster.
In 2001, Clavijo recruited the three “Cs” – Caté, Nacho Conte and Tony Cottee, all sporting impressive pedigrees and national team experience with Brazil, Spain and England. Clavijo even tried for a fourth and fifth “C” but couldn’t convince management to ante up for Hondurans Samuel Caballero and Julio Cesar “Rambo” De Leon, who instead earned transfers to Italy’s Serie A. Clavijo was not discouraged by MLS limiting foreign players per roster to three, and even left the team’s training camp in Costa Rica in a last-ditch effort to petition CD Olimpia president Rafael Ferrari.
Caballero might have been able to qualify for green card status, but the foreign player limit would have excluded most of the others. That didn’t stop Clavijo from trying to squeeze in more high-profile performers.
During that training camp, the Revs tried out striker David Embe, who played for Cameroon in the 1994 World Cup; Uruguayan goalkeeper Leo Percovic (who went on to become an assistant to Middlesbrough coach Aitor Karanka, also recruited to MLS by Clavijo when he was coaching the Colorado Rapids) and enigmatic Colombian striker Albeiro “El Palomo” Usuriaga, who ended up the victim of a hitman hired by a jealous drug kingpin three years later.
Clavijo might have waited too long to sort things out, and the Revolution got off to an 0-6-0 start in 2001. Clavijo had been adept at managing locker-room problems, but dissension had become rife. In early May, Clavijo traded away John Harkes and Eric Wynalda, his former World Cup teammates, and seemed to regain control of the situation.
But the chaos of the ’01 season continued.
Clavijo later told me about receiving a late-night call to the Attleboro, Mass., home of Caté. Clavijo said he had specifically instructed Caté to avoid confrontations with his wife, because of potential problems with the law. Caté, it turned out, took Clavijo literally and had jumped out of a second story window during a domestic dispute, and police found him standing in the yard before calling Clavijo.
The Revolution were eliminated from playoff contention in August, but Clavijo’s plotting and positive attitude carried the team through to the 2001 U.S. Open Cup final. In late June, Clavijo had figured out how to sign another foreigner, knowing that Bolivian goalkeeper Jose Carlos “El Gato” Fernandez had a green card. Clavijo figured Fernandez could compete with Jeff Causey for the starting position and maybe get hot in the Open Cup, which is exactly what happened.
But the USOC final was scheduled for the weekend after the MLS Cup, so the Revolution had almost two months to prepare – probably too much time, as the team’s conditioning was affected by the long layoff.
Though reaching the title game was considered admirable, the result – a 2-1 extra time loss to the LA Galaxy – seemed to set the tone for the Revolution, who have lost in all five MLS Cup appearances and won once in three USOC finals.
Things might have been different, had the Revolution gained the right to play host to the ’01 USOC final. General manager Todd Smith had guaranteed a near-record crowd if Foxboro Stadium had been approved for the title match. Smith’s plan was to allow the approximately 20,000 ticket-holders for the Revolution-NY/NJ MetroStars match (canceled because of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks) admission to the game, a crowd that would have far surpassed the 4,195 that arrived at Titan Stadium in Fullerton, Calif.
There was an advantage of finishing with a poor record in 2001, though, as the Revolution capitalized on the demise of the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny franchises. In a dispersal draft, Clavijo chose Shaker Asad, Alex Pineda Chacon, Carlos Llamosa and Jim Rooney from Miami. Mamadou Diallo and Steve Ralston were selected from Tampa, and four days later they added Mutiny goalkeeper Adin Brown. Then, Clavijo selected Taylor Twellman with the No. 2 pick in the MLS draft, and added Shalrie Joseph and Marshall Leonard, knowing they would not be available until 2003.
Clavijo’s dealings went on after he departed. He was fired on May 23, 2002 and the next day the Revolution completed a trade he had been working on with the MetroStars that brought Daniel Hernandez, Brian Kamler and Diego Serna to the team. Clavijo also claimed to have set up the Revolution’s acquisition of Uruguayan midfielder Jose Cancela, who arrived the following year.
Extensive overseas contacts gave Clavijo a chance to be in contact with high-profile foreign agents and players. But Clavijo also emphasized U.S. talent and he seemed to especially value domestic defenders, after having teamed with Marcelo Balboa, Paul Caligiuri and Alexi Lalas on the back line during the 1994 World Cup.
In his first season with the Revolution, Clavijo parted with Mike Burns and Dan Calichman, who both had local ties, in a trade to acquire Mauricio Wright from San Jose. Clavijo wanted younger U.S. back-liners, and he brought in Leo Cullen, Joe Franchino, Jay Heaps and Rusty Pierce.
Clavijo never seemed to settle down in New England, though. His wife, Martha, and sons, Jonathan and Nico, mostly remained at their home in Davie, Fla., where Clavijo could experience the best of both worlds, often hosting asados in the backyard.
Clavijo believed he was unjustly fired by the Revolution, who got off to a 2-4-1 start in 2002, despite the additions of Diallo, Llamosa, Ralston, Twellman, etc. After the Revolution had been clobbered, 5-2, by the Colorado Rapids in Denver, Smith dismissed Clavijo. The players might not have given up on Clavijo, but the heavy defeat was reminiscent of the frustrations of the previous season.
Steve Nicol took over on an interim basis and the Revolution seemed headed toward another losing season. But the Revolution rallied to win the Eastern Conference with a 12-14-2 (38 points) record, reaching the final and losing, 1-0, in overtime to the LA Galaxy before a crowd of 61,316 at Gillette Stadium. Smith, who had been diagnosed with cancer, resigned after the season and died the next year. Nicol then remained coach until 2011.
Clavijo always seemed to be a welcome presence when he returned to Gillette Stadium, despite the fact FC Dallas had compiled an 8-0-0 record against the Revolution – including the 2016 U.S. Open Cup final – since he took over as the team’s technical director in 2012.
Clavijo had planned to make the trip to Gillette last April, but suffered a setback in treatment and took a leave of absence. FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja dedicated the team’s 1-0 win over the Revolution to Clavijo and said afterward his condition was grave. Clavijo seemed to recover, though.
During his time in New England, Clavijo’s reach often exceeded his grasp. But he aimed high and the Revolution were the better for it, landing franchise-defining players for years to come.