MLS issues rulings on DC United coach hiring process, Taxi Fountas allegations

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Major League Soccer released on Monday the findings of league investigations into D.C. United's recent coach hiring process, as well as allegations of the use of racist language by forward Taxi Fountas.

Failure to comply with MLS's Diversity Hiring Policy

D.C. United were fined $25,000 by MLS for failure to fully comply with the League’s Diversity Hiring Policy. Updated in 2021, the policy includes a specific focus on the hiring of Black and other underrepresented candidates.

The Diversity Hiring Policy requires that “the finalist pool includes two (2) or more candidates from underrepresented groups, whereby at least one (1) candidate must be either Black or African American.”

While MLS’s review found that D.C. United met with two candidates from underrepresented groups, it was determined that one of those conversations could not be considered a “finalist pool” interview. As a result, the club remained obligated to interview an additional candidate from an underrepresented group as part of the “finalist pool” or request a waiver from MLS detailing the extenuating circumstances that would not allow them to have done so.

D.C. United, who announced Wayne Rooney as their new head coach on July 12, failed to do so, resulting in the fine.

The club issued a statement after Monday's ruling:

"D.C. United respect Major League Soccer’s decision in regard to the club’s process of hiring its new head coach earlier this season.

As the league stated, the club’s recent head coach hiring process included two candidates in the finalist pool, per the league policy, from underrepresented groups, one of whom was Black or African American. One of the finalists from an underrepresented group ultimately withdrew from the process, thereby making them unavailable.

The candidate in question accepted the club’s request to interview them and participated in the interview. The candidate was asked the same questions as all other finalists, inclusive of questions around tactics, playing style, staffing, leadership, and perspective on how they would coach the team.

Subsequent to that discussion, the candidate informed the club that it was their preference not to accept the role midseason, but rather to join the club with a full offseason in order to implement their system of play. Upon learning this at the conclusion of the interview, the club focused its attention on the remaining finalist candidates for the midseason head coaching opportunity.

D.C. United have made it a fundamental practice to prioritize interviewing candidates from underrepresented groups for all leadership positions, inclusive of coaches, across the organization. This practice has resulted in the club having one of the most diverse leadership groups across Major League Soccer."

Investigation into Taxi Fountas' alleged use of racially abusive language

MLS also concluded its investigation into allegations that Fountas used racially abusive language toward an Inter Miami CF player during the teams’ match on September 18.

MLS found that the allegation, made by Inter Miami defender Aimé Mabika, was credible. While the league investigation could not independently verify the allegation, MLS did not find credible Fountas’ claim, made during interviews conducted as part of this investigation, that he said nothing in that moment – discriminatory or otherwise.

Video of the incident clearly shows Mabika suddenly reacting to something he believed he heard from Fountas. MLS was unable to confirm independently, through additional eyewitness accounts, video footage or audio recordings, what Fountas said in that moment, as has been the league’s long-standing practice in determining player discipline for these types of allegations.

During this investigation, Fountas voluntarily remained separated from D.C. United and did not participate in two MLS matches on October 1 and October 9. Fountas is eligible to play for D.C. United during the 2023 season.

MLS plans to examine its policies and practices as they relate to allegations of abusive and discriminatory language and is committed to working with all of the stakeholders during this offseason. 

All MLS players and other employees are required to undergo regular discrimination and anti-harassment training as part of the league’s ongoing efforts to create a welcoming and safe workplace for everyone. 

The club issued a statement in the wake of Monday's ruling:

D.C. United fully supported and actively participated in the thorough investigation led by Major League Soccer following the claim that Taxi Fountas used racially abusive language toward an Inter Miami CF player during the teams’ match on September 18.

The club appreciate and accept the findings of the league’s investigation, as well as the conclusion that the act in question could not be confirmed following several interviews that took place with individuals involved and nearby the incident, including those closest to the situation, as well as through an in-depth review of audio and video from multiple broadcast angles. Additionally, the club would like to acknowledge Taxi Fountas’ cooperation throughout the investigation.

D.C. United are committed to continuing to do the work needed to uphold one of our club's core values that racism has no home in our sport and we must be proactive in our efforts to create a place where all feel welcome and respected.