Former USMNT player and National Soccer Hall of fame member Efrain “Chico” Chacurian may be eighty years old, but he feels thirty years younger. One of the most valuable contributors to the sport of soccer over the past century, Chacurian still works in youth soccer development today. As a regional head coach for U.S. Soccer’s Olympic Development Program, Chacurian scouts and evaluates players year-round.
Chacurian says that he has had a “beautiful” life, and that he has been lucky to be able to see so much of the world and learn so much through the sport of soccer. He took time to share some of his positive energy and thoughts with us here at U.S. Soccer Players …
Where are you living now? Are you still involved in soccer?
I live in Stratford, Connecticut. It’s right next to the ocean. I’m with the National Youth program. I’m a regional coach, the kids come into Virginia and we process them. We’ve got 15 states, and we process all the best players of that age. We have 50 kids in two tryouts. We choose 50 to come that first month, and then we cut down to 28. The best players go to the full team. That’s one of my jobs. Second, I have a field named after me here in town, and I play every Tuesday night. I’m eighty years old and I feel like a million dollars. I feel great. Everyone says, how can you do it? It’s good.
Can you talk about moving to the States in 1947? What were the biggest differences in the sport of soccer between Argentina and the U.S.?
I was 23. I will tell you about that first game. For the very first game, I played for the New York Armenians. I signed with them, and they picked me up one Sunday afternoon to go to the game, and we’re driving in the car, going and going, and we stop at an empty place. I said, ‘What are we doing here?’ I had been playing in front of 40, 50, 60 thousand people in Argentina. They said, ‘You’ll see.’ They made two holes in the ground, parked the goalposts into the holes, and we played. I felt like taking the first plane back home (laughs). I played for them for six months, and then the pro team from the Hispano club got in touch with me, and asked me to play for them. They paid me well and treated me very nicely. I had my first appearance on the National Team in 1953. We played against Scotland and Ireland, and I did well. I played for ten years for the National Team. We played Mexico and Haiti in 1954, we lost to Mexico, but beat Haiti, and I scored two goals in that game.
In 1949, I felt very homesick. I was only 24 years old. I bought a ticket to go home and visit. It took 18 days sailing one-way to Argentina. I saw my mother, and I played professional soccer down there again. Everything was successful, but I realized, I can’t live here anymore. America is pulling me back. Then, in February, almost March, I came back, and I found out that the National Team had already been selected in Brazil, and we beat England 1-0. I say ‘we’ because my heart was with them. That was the saddest part of my life, not being a part of that team. The rest of my life has been beautiful. I’m the luckiest man there is.
How was the transition into coaching after your retirement?
In 1965 I coached for the University of Southern Connecticut. I had coached the head coach there when he was young, and he called me and said, ‘I need help.’ I said, ‘Sure.’ He was like a son to me. He could have become the best coach in the country, but he didn’t fly on airplanes. I think otherwise he would have been a national coach. He and I worked together for ten years. Then I coached at Yale University after Southern Connecticut, I was the men and women’s coach. I was the freshman coach in 1972, and we won every game of the season. We only won by 3-2 against Harvard, that was the biggest scare. But we were champions that year. I still meet up with those kids every year. We have a beautiful trophy in a restaurant over here.
Do you have a favorite memory from your playing days?
There were a few games. We played in Germany once in the German-American League. The best stadium I ever played in was the 1936 Olympic stadium in Berlin. We played against a team from Bordeaux, France in that stadium. Those were beautiful teams. Some of them were after me, but I said no. I was just getting married, so I said, ‘No thank you. I’m going to live my life in America.’ I loved this place.
As an ODP coach, what important developments have you seen over the years in youth soccer?
I want to say first, Claudio Reyna came from our group, and so did Tony Meola and others. These kids played for us when they were 13, 14 years old. They were from Jersey. We had 16,000 kids, all 13 years old. What we do is sit and assess them. They play with no coaches, no referees. They get no help. They have to create for themselves. They’re getting better at it every year, I tell you. I would pay to watch those games. I was so amazed and happy about it. I love those kids.