At least five Black coaches are on the preliminary list of candidates for D.C. United’s head coaching job, a sign that, amid a year of protests about racial inequity, MLS recognizes diversity shortcomings in leadership positions.

It remains unclear how many individuals United will formally interview, three people familiar with United’s selection process said this weekend.

The initial pool of Black coaches, those people said, includes MLS assistants Ezra Hendrickson (Columbus Crew), Tyrone Marshall (Real Salt Lake) and Patrice Bernier (Montreal Impact); former MLS assistant C.J. Brown (most recently with the New York Red Bulls); and Michael Nsien, head coach of Tulsa FC in the second-division USL Championship.

They are among at least 15 individuals, one person said, that United is evaluating in the first stage of its search to replace Ben Olsen, who was fired Oct. 8 after 10 years. Chad Ashton, a D.C. assistant since 2007, was named interim head coach.

The search comes as Black Players for Change, an MLS group with more than 170 members that formed this summer, presses the league for greater opportunities in coaching and front-office positions.

In 2007, MLS introduced the Coaching Diversity Initiative, which required teams to interview minority candidates for openings on the technical staff. However, a report by Fare Network, which tracks diversity and discrimination in soccer worldwide, said, “There is no evidence of implementation.”

Montreal’s Thierry Henry and Colorado’s Robin Fraser are the only Black head coaches in the 26-team league, which has employed six Black head coaches in its 24-year history. The others were Ruud Gullit (Los Angeles Galaxy, 2008), Denis Hamlett (Chicago Fire, 2008-09), Aron Winter (Toronto FC, 2011-12) and Patrick Vieira (New York City FC, 2016-18).

Twenty-five percent of the MLS player pool this year is Black, according to Fare Network. Another 33 percent is Latino.

Latinos account for seven current head coaches. Seventeen percent of assistant coaches are Black, and 4 percent are Latino. Toronto’s Ali Curtis is the league’s lone Black general manager.

United has never employed a Black or Latino head coach. The current staff includes one Black assistant, goalkeepers coach Zach Thornton.

United officials said they did not want to comment on their coaching search, which, according to two people close to the situation, could take many weeks, if not months. Barring a late surge, last-place United will conclude the season Nov. 8.

One person close to the team said it has done “extensive research in the preliminary stages of the search and that includes evaluating several Black coaching candidates.”

Among the other potential options — all are White — are Jason Kreis, the U.S. under-23 national team coach who has guided three MLS teams; Steve Cherundolo, a former U.S. national team defender who is coaching in Germany; and Jill Ellis, who guided the U.S. women’s national team to two World Cup titles.

United also might consider former D.C. players John Harkes, head coach of the third-division Greenville (S.C.) Triumph, and Richie Williams, a New England Revolution assistant.

Hendrickson, 48, was a defender on United’s 2004 MLS Cup championship team. He has been an assistant for Seattle, the Los Angeles Galaxy and Columbus and was head coach of Seattle’s second-division team (2014-18).

Marshall, 45, has been a Salt Lake assistant since 2015. Bernier, 41, is in his second year on the Montreal staff.

Brown, 45, began his assistant coaching tenure in 2011 with Salt Lake and has worked for Chicago, New York City FC, Orlando City and the Red Bulls. Nsien, 39, is in his second full season overseeing Tulsa, which had a 6-2-7 record this season after a 8-16-10 mark in 2019.