At long last, D.C. United got their guy.
After a months-long coaching search, spanning 31 candidates interviewed, six on a final shortlist and even a few self-proclaimed deadlines missed, the Black-and-Red appointed rising Argentine manager Hernan Losada earlier this week to succeed Ben Olsen.
D.C. hoped to have a coach announced and in place by the holidays, or at least by New Year's Day. It took a few extra weeks, but they believe it'll be well worth the wait.
"We knew what we were looking for," GM & VP of soccer operations Dave Kasper told media on a virtual press conference. "Once we got to Hernan – he was a guy, had he been there from day one, the process would’ve gone quicker because he has everything we’re looking for."
Losada joins D.C. after a strong spell at Beerschot in Belgium, taking over as manager in 2019. He helped guide the club to promotion and dealt fine with moving up a division, with Beerschot in 10th place at the time of his departure for D.C. At 38, he's now the youngest active MLS head coach.
Hernan Losada with Beerschot | Action Images
“He’s a young coach on the rise, he’s very tactically astute," Kasper said. "A big part of this was finding a guy with a real soccer brain and obsessed 24/7. That’s what he is.”
Losada promises a vertical, high-energy brand of soccer. His style has been linked with Atletico Madrid's Diego Simeone, Leeds United's Marcelo Bielsa and River Plate's Marcelo Gallardo. All three South American coaches have distinctly energetic tactics.
“The last couple of days I was watching even more games than before, my goal is to watch all the games from last season," Losada said. "And I’ve watched clips of our draft picks, I’ll try to get as much information as I can in the coming days.”
With Losada in place, D.C. shift full focus to improving a squad that didn't qualify for the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Incomings and outgoings
Losada inherits a squad that isn't short on intriguing talent.
Designated Player and Peru international Edison Flores joined last winter on a club-record transfer from Liga MX, though the attacking midfielder didn't hit his best form while battling injuries and team struggles. Paul Arriola (more on his future below), Julian Gressel, Steve Birnbaum and Bill Hamid are all leaders and MLS-proven commodities as well.
“We have a good idea of (Losada’s) shortlist of positions we’ll be focusing on," Kasper said. "Now we’ll address that. It was important for us to wait until we finalized a coach to really dig in deep to address player personnel.”
United's chief deficiency in 2020 was attacking output.
They were tied for fourth-worst in MLS in goals (25), then were third-from-bottom in expected goals (23.9), second-worst in chances created from open play (126) and last in big chances created (17).
“D.C. United only won five games and had a problem with scoring and creating chances – those are the things we want to improve next season," Losada said. "You know the moment a new coach comes, it takes some time. It’s a process. You can’t put all your principles in day one, you have to build up. We hope we can improve and perform the way we want.”
However, that attack may be without Arriola, a US men's national team regular. Arriola is a target for Swansea City, who just signed Jordan Morris on loan from the Seattle Sounders. The club will get a final resolution on a potential move in about a week as England's transfer deadline closes at the end of January.
“With regards to Paul, there are ongoing discussions with the club," Kasper said. "They’re up against a time clock with the transfer deadline, so we’ll be engaging with Swansea in the coming days.”
One positive from last year for D.C. was the emergence of a few top young talents amid injuries and poor form.
“Last season was with COVID and a lot of players had injuries," Losada said. "But those injuries gave the opportunity for young players to play some minutes, and they did very well."
Moses Nyeman, Griffin Yow and Kevin Paredes – all Homegrowns – broke into the first team and will challenge for more minutes in 2021.
“When you make that link with young guys who are motivated and want to show themselves, it’s a perfect match," Losada said. "They’re full of energy, they want to show themselves and improve.”