After a months-long search, D.C. United has named Hernán Losada as their new head coach. Terms of the deal were not officially announced, though at least one Belgian report says Losada’s contract runs for three years. The 38-year-old Argentine joins United after spending the last one-and-a-half years as the head coach with K Beerschot VA, whom he got promoted to the Belgian top flight in the 2019-2020 season.
United’s pursuit of a new head coach stretches back to early October, when Ben Olsen’s decade-long run as the club’s manager came to an end with the Black-and-Red having won just twice in 2020. Candidates as varied as two-time World Cup winner Jill Ellis, Seattle Sounders assistant coach Gonzalo Pineda, Philadelphia Union assistant Pat Noonan, former United defender/current Columbus assistant Ezra Hendrickson, and former New York Red Bulls boss Chris Armas came up before ownership began looking at coaches in Europe.
Losada is the first head coach of Latinx descent in United history, and the first hired with no prior MLS or American soccer experience.
“Hernán is a strong leader and strategist and an attack-minded coach,” said Jason Levien, Co-Chairman and CEO of D.C. United in a team release. “We are confident that our players and community will take quickly to him and will thoroughly enjoy his high-energy, forward-thinking soccer.”
Losada echoed that endorsement of his stylistic approach, saying “I’m excited about the opportunity to join D.C. United and to write a new chapter of success with this storied club. I believe in playing every match to win and in my opinion the best way to do this is to create as many scoring chances as possible every time we step onto the field, through high-energy, vertical attacking soccer. I am looking forward to entertaining our fans and competing.”
“Our process to identify the right individual to lead our club has been extremely thorough and we’re confident that Hernán is the ideal person and coach to take us forward,” said United GM Dave Kasper. “We believe wholeheartedly in Hernán’s approach to the game and his desire to play high-energy soccer with and without the ball. We look forward to getting to work with Hernán to start the 2021 season.”
As a player, Losada broke through with Independiente, debuting in October 2003 and appearing in the Copa Libertadores before departing for Universidad de Chile. However, most of his playing career was spent in Belgium, where he saw time with Germinal Beerschot, Anderlecht, Charleroi, Lierse, and K Beerschot VA.
After retiring following the 2017-2018 season, Losada went right into coaching, becoming an assistant at Beerschot. In a situation that has strong echoes of Ben Olsen’s move from player to assistant to head coach, Losada’s time as an assistant lasted less than a full season before he took over after Stijn Vreven was fired in October 2019.
While Beerschot finished that season in 5th (exactly where they were when Losada took over), things changed dramatically during the “Closing” segment of the season. Beerschot sprinted to a 7W-5D-2L record, conceding just eight goals en route to a top-of-the-table finish. In the Belgian pyramid, the teams that finish in 1st place during the Opening and Closing section of the season qualify for a promotion play-off, but the Belgian Pro League opted instead to simply expand from 16 teams to 18, so Beerschot made the move into the top flight.
This season, Beerschot has been appointment viewing for neutrals, as they’ve scored 41 goals (third-most in a league where the three most prolific teams are way out in front of the rest of the pack) and conceded 45, the second-worst total in the league. Losada departed the club with Beerschot going 9W-3D-9L this season, good enough for 10th place (just one point from a place in the Belgian playoff system used to determine who qualifies for the Europa Conference League) in the current standings.
Losada, whose parents pushed him to study English at an early age, has obviously only just gotten started as a head coach, but he has already developed a reputation for very attack-minded soccer. Beerschot engaged in numerous high-scoring shootouts (including a 6-3 win and a 5-5 draw) rather than following the more cautious approach expected of promoted clubs. While Losada’s formation preferences will obviously factor in the players that are already here, online resources like FBRef and Transfermarkt both indicate that he prefers to play with a back three or back five, with a 442 diamond another option.
Overall, it is a plunge into the unknown for United, a club that seems to have squandered the momentum that came from opening Audi Field and signing Wayne Rooney in 2018. Despite a reputation for frugality, the Black-and-Red have spent around $8 million on attacking players since the summer of 2019, and moved substantial intra-MLS assets to acquire Julian Gressel and Yordy Reyna as well.
In 2020, United may have had depth issues in certain areas, but in a particularly weak Eastern Conference, there was more than enough raw talent to get into the expanded playoffs. The difficulty was fitting that talent together into a coherent, consistent unit. In the aftermath of Covid-19 belt-tightening, Losada will very likely have to solve that problem without relying on a major Designated Player signing.
More than that, though, United’s identity as a club — both to diehard fans and to a regional population that is soccer-mad but often looks abroad rather than to Buzzard Point — is a major question mark. As much as the challenge before Losada is simply winning soccer games, he will have to redefine who the Black-and-Red are if they’re going to move back towards being one of MLS’s touchstone clubs.