One week since firing Hernán Losada six games inside the MLS season, DC United co-owner Jason Levien is still excited about his former coach’s energy, passion and creativity. Losada, he said, “changed the foundation and shook our culture, which needed to be shaken up.”
In addition to Losada’s frayed relationship with some players and front office, United had stumbled on the pitch since last fall: a 2-4-1 finish in 2021 and a 2-4 start this year.
So when Dave Kasper, the team’s president of football operations, and General Manager Lucy Rushton recommended a change of coach, Levien said he and partner Stephen Kaplan agreed.
“We felt we should do better,” Levien said. “A lot of an organization’s role with players is to inspire them to play their best. We felt we didn’t get it. Unfair or not, sometimes it falls on the leader.”
Losada was fired last Wednesday, after returning home from a trip to Rochester, NY, for a US Open Cup match. Chad Ashton, a DC assistant since 2007, was put in charge for the rest of the season, a 28-game concert that began with a 3-2 victory over the New England Revolution on Saturday at Audi Field.
DC United runs Taxi Fountas to win the first match since the change of coach
Losada, which said it was “still in shock” immediately after the decision last week, has not responded to further requests for comment. “Looking back, I’m proud of the progress … achieved in less than 15 months, creating a professional environment and a competitive atmosphere,” he wrote on Instagram on Tuesday.
In an interview Tuesday, Levien tossed about Losada’s qualities.
“He is tremendously talented. He has great charisma,” Levien said. “I found him very inspiring and loved the conversations and interactions we had. Our organization is better for the time Hernán was here. “
But, Levien said, Losada’s demanding ways did not suit everyone.
“As much as I liked, we pushed guys hard,” Levien said, “we may have pushed them a little too hard.”
The physical demands resulted in a long list of injuries last season and a team that then used down the stretch; it missed the playoffs by one point. Even after changes in support staff and greater emphasis on offseason conditioning, the suffering continued into the spring.
In the consciousness of Hernán Losada, DC United is fearless and healthy. Can reality match his vision?
From a mental point of view, the players said that Losada’s methods eroded the joy of the game and that he did not communicate well. On top of that, Levien said, “I do not think you have much joy when you lose more than you gain.”
Kasper said last week: “We were worried about our direction.”
The decision to fire Losada was made so early in the campaign because Levien said: “We did not want to do it in match 20 as it was harder to make a change compared to having a great season. We had to do the former. “
But after just six games – one of the fastest layoffs at the start of an MLS season – did Losada get a fair shake? United’s highest paid acquisition, Greek striker Taxi Fountas, had not even gotten its first start yet. (With Ashton in the lead, Founta’s scored two goals and one assist alone in the first half on Saturday.)
“I struggle with that because the circumstances could have been different and he could have been given more options,” Levien said. “But what I’m looking for is the club’s collective, holistic path. When the performances do not live up to what we expect and we believe there are areas where we can improve our culture, I have to support.” the recommendation of Kasper and Rushton.
United’s confidence in Ashton helped alleviate concerns about firing Losada, Levien said. Ashton was interim coach at the end of 2020 after Ben Olsen’s removal, and although Ashton interviewed for the permanent job that winter, “we thought we needed a new voice and more of a change that Chad could offer” on that time, Levien said.
With the changes United had in mind in 2021, Levien added: “I’m not sure if Chad had taken over for Ben, we would have been able to implement it just as quickly.”
Levien said United want to continue Losada’s high-energy, high-pressure system with Ashton.
Ashton, Levien said, is also well-suited to repairing damage to the coach-player relationship and improving the strategy of the game, such as closing matches. In Losada’s last two MLS games, United Atlanta scored the winning goal at the break in the second half, allowing Austin to score three times after the 80th minute for a 3-2 victory against 10-man DC.
“I would not put [the firing] on one match, but if you took a 20-game perspective on how we won and lost matches, it’s fairer, ”Levien said. “You say, ‘Wait a minute, we do not like where this is trending.’ And even though we were six games inside, this group of players may be in the top tier of the conference, not in the bottom tier. “
Losada did not admit to his superiors by often complaining about United’s modest spending habits compared to teams around the league. Team officials asked him to tone it down, and he did. His comments, however, raised questions in public about the ownership ambitions.
“We are not at Atlanta’s consumption level,” Levien said. “We’re going to be in the middle of the herd, but we have to stay in our lane in terms of our vision, which is strategic spending” and the development of home-grown players.
The MLS Players Association has not yet announced this year’s salary, but United are generally in the lower tier. Teams are also measured by the amount they spend on acquiring players from abroad.
Levien said United are in the market for a third designated player – the maximum allowed by MLS – to join Fountas and Peruvian striker Edison Flores.
The Flores signing has been a boost: a club record $ 5 million transfer fee paid to Mexican club Puebla in 2020 and a $ 1.6 million base salary for little output from the often injured player.
Levien, the owner group’s face since 2012, took issue with allegations that the organization has not spent enough to keep up with the growing league.
“We are not growing as fast as I would like, but if you look at the track of the organization, it is undeniable that we are growing,” Levien said, referring to the opening of Audi Field in 2018, the launch of the second division. Loudoun United, a new training center in Leesburg and increased staffing in the technical and academic departments.
He said he understands the frustration of fans who have not enjoyed a playoff victory in seven years, a performance in the conference final in 10 and a place in the MLS Cup in 18 – the last of United’s four titles in MLS ‘first nine seasons.
The firing of a well-liked coach further inflamed supporters.
The lack of success on the field, Levien said, “does not suit me well.”
“I want to pamper our fans again,” he said. “Our vision is to build a culture, a philosophy and an investment in our team that has lasting success. Much of it is below the surface, but we believe it will build the foundation for a future renaissance. . ”