The Ally Mackay era has begun at D.C. United, with the club’s newly-hired general manager and chief soccer officer meeting with players, staff and media at the Inova Performance Complex in Leesburg, Virginia on Tuesday.
But another Black-and-Red figure had already made a few headlines across the Atlantic earlier in the day. United’s 18-year-old attacker Kristian Fletcher continued to thrive on his loan stint with Swansea City’s Under-21 side, bagging a hat trick against Ipswich Town in a 4-0 victory to run his scoring total to 13 goals since joining the Swans in September.
Fletcher’s performances have convinced many Swansea supporters that he’s ready to join their first team, which currently competes in the English Championship. As of now, however, United expect him back for the start of their 2024 preseason camp in January.
“I think it's fantastic that Kristian is having the success he’s having and the experience he's having,” D.C. co-chairman and CEO Jason Levien told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday afternoon. “We want him playing first-team soccer or football to get that experience as well. So right now we expect that he'll be back with D.C. United.
“We're going to talk to him and both clubs about that, figure out what's the best path for his development. But I think with a new coach coming into D.C. and new leadership in soccer operations, I think it's a great opportunity for Kristian.”
Fletcher signed a homegrown contract with D.C. at age 17 in August 2022 and made his first-team debut that month before scoring his first MLS goal a few weeks later in the final match of the season. The Maryland native notched two assists in just 126 league minutes (one start) this year under former head coach Wayne Rooney before moving to Wales.
A US youth international who can work up top or as a winger, Fletcher is one of several promising youngsters who could prove useful for D.C.’s next head coach. Mackay pointed to the Washington region’s rich reserves of youth talent as a key building block for the project of restoring them to competitiveness in the coming years.
It can only help that Levien and owner/investor Steve Kaplan are also co-owners of Swansea, offering opportunities for partnerships between the two clubs.
“He's a very good example of what are the possibilities with that pipeline,” said Mackay of Fletcher. “Having the added entity of a European team should be very attractive. And I think people should want to come and play for this academy, and then obviously play for the first team. I think that's an aspect that we definitely want to focus on. We definitely want to have good players here, good young players here that can add value.”
Coach hire by Christmas?
The former Nashville SC assistant GM’s first major task is identifying D.C.’s successor to Rooney, who left United at season’s end after failing to steer the Black-and-Red into the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs and is now in charge of Birmingham City back in his homeland. The first round of candidate interviews is getting underway and Mackay said he’s hopeful the hire could be made before year’s end.
“Obviously, the drop-dead date is always going to be [when preseason begins]. I‘d like to think that we have someone in place prior to that for sure,” said Mackay. “I'd like to have someone in place by Christmas. It's been a primary focus of mine and Jason's over the last number of weeks.
“There is a vacancy there, but there's no lack of options, either. D.C. is an attractive team that a lot of people have reached out about. This isn't just a job that is attractive in the domestic market, this is the job that's been attractive in an international market. Coaches want to come and they want to coach in D.C.; there's not going to be a shortage of candidates that I think we are going to have. I think it's primarily focusing on who is going to be the right fit to have that alignment and collaboration within the ownership and myself.”