Chino Gets His Shot

"I'm finally back," Alegria said in an interview with MLSnet.com. "I suffered a lot in Peru but it's a good thing that D.C. United was always waiting for me. And I'm waiting to start practicing again December 4th."

And many MLS fans are curious to see what Alegria is all about. Ever since the midfielder's name was linked to D.C. United two years ago, the word on him was that his creativity and play in the center of the field would wow the Black-and-Red's followers. And in his first game for United in the team's recent tour of El Salvador, the reports of his performance were impressive in speaking of his passing and distribution skills in combination with 17-year-old Bobby Convey in midfield.

"I was really nervous," he said. "It was my first professional game in El Salvador. I think I did a good job but I think I can do even better than that."

The 20-year-old native of Peru has only been back in the United States since September 27 after more than a year and a half of legal wrangling over his U.S. immigration status. The situation erupted when he signed his first professional soccer contract with D.C. United straight out of high school in 1999 (Yes, before high school sensation Convey there was Alegria). After a few training sessions with the Black-and-Red someone broke the news to him.

"I talked to my former lawyer and he told me that there was no problems but when I made my contract two years ago, they told me that I overstayed, that my visa was not valid and that I had four days to leave the country," Alegria said. "So it was kind of sad for me to make a decision. I still wanted to play for D.C. United. But I went to Peru and they told me to wait two to three weeks but it took almost two years."

One moment Alegria was living his childhood soccer dreams and the next he had four days to leave the country. It was a trying time for Alegria, who was 18 at the time.

"I was very confused," he said. "It happened just like that. Nothing to think about. All I wanted was to play for D.C. United but I had to go back to my country. That was the two longest years I've ever had."

However, it turns out that heading back to Peru was a fortunate turn of events for Alegria.

"I'm happy I went to Peru because when I got there, my mom died three months later (June 25, 1999)," he said. "I got the chance to see her after nine years and she passed away after three months."

Alegria had been in the United States since he was 10, when he immigrated to the Northern Virginia area with an uncle and grandfather. It was his mother who sent him, wanting her oldest son to have a better future.

After his mother's death, things were not any clearer for Alegria. While waiting for the necessary paperwork to return to the U.S., he received offers from clubs in Peru, where his name is recognized. But he remained loyal to D.C. United and United reciprocated with their concerted efforts to obtain the necessary documents. Alegria himself made trips to the local U.S. embassy but they were to no avail.

"I went to the American embassy in Peru five times and every time I went they put in an excuse," he said. "But I had the support of my family in Peru and I don't know what I would do without them. It was very frustrating going every time (to the embassy) and hearing 'No, no, no.'"

As the months passed Alegria kept fit by working out with a second division club, a situation that did not require contractual terms. But the situation continued to grow desperate. At times it seemed like there would be no return for 'Chino'. Different lawyers and U.S. Congressmen joined the campaign and even Peruvian soccer great Teofilo 'Nene' Cubillas interceded in his position as Minister of Sport for Peru.

"It made me feel special with everyone helping me. I thank everyone," Alegria said. "I especially thank Teofilo 'Nene' Cubillas. I had the chance to meet him three times. He sent letters to the embassy telling them that Peruvian Soccer is really frustrated because they couldn't have me in the U.S. Right now I'm the only Peruvian playing in MLS."

The answer that Alegria and D.C. United fans had long been waiting for finally came this past September 25. Alegria pointed out that his mother died on the 25th, 15 months earlier.

The full interview can be heard via Real Audio format on www.MLSnet.com.

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