United is in the early stages of the search and the discussions with Ellis were informal, said one person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The team and Ellis were, the person said, “feeling each other out” for possible further talks.
Nonetheless, two others said, Ellis was “impressive” and probably would advance to the next stage of the process.
Whether she wants to coach an MLS team — and whether United would be a good fit — remains unclear. Ellis, a graduate of Fairfax County’s Robinson Secondary School and William & Mary, stepped down from the U.S. coaching job last fall with a 106-7-19 record.
She is a two-time FIFA women’s coach of the year who has held several roles in the U.S. national team system since 2000 but has never guided a pro club.
Ellis, 54, remains employed by the U.S. Soccer Federation, focused on growing the female coaching pool nationwide.
She also remains open to returning to coaching on the international level and reportedly interviewed for the English women’s national team position. (She lived in England until she was 14.)
This isn’t the first time United has taken interest in Ellis. This past winter, the team discussed internally the possibility of offering her an assistant coaching position.
Via the USSF, Ellis said she did not want to comment. United officials declined to comment on any aspects of the coaching search.
The team is seeking a long-term replacement for Ben Olsen, who was fired Oct. 8 after a 10-year tenure. Chad Ashton, a longtime assistant, was named interim coach through the end of the season.
United’s candidate pool, multiple people said, also includes former New York Red Bulls coach Chris Armas; U.S. under-23 coach Jason Kreis, who led Real Salt Lake to the 2009 MLS Cup title; and former U.S. World Cup defender Steve Cherundolo, now coaching in Germany.
MLS assistants Richie Williams (New England Revolution) and Ezra Hendrickson (Columbus Crew) also could enter the mix. John Harkes, a former D.C. captain coaching third-division finalist Greenville (S.C.) Triumph, is interested as well, two people said.
United — which is trying to build a diverse candidate pool amid a year of protests about racial inequity — already spoke to Michael Nsien, head coach of second-division FC Tulsa. There are also plans to talk with MLS assistants Tyrone Marshall (Real Salt Lake) and Patrice Bernier (Montreal Impact).
Ashton has improved his standing by overseeing a 3-1-1 surge that has lifted United (5-10-6) into a three-way tie for the last Eastern Conference playoff berth. Two matches remain.
One person close to the situation said United’s preliminary list also includes several coaches abroad, mostly from Latin America. United’s seven previous full-time coaches were involved in American soccer in some capacity before taking the job.
A prominent European figure under consideration, one person said, is Clarence Seedorf, an AC Milan legend and former Dutch national team midfielder who has coached, among others, Milan and the Cameroonian national team. He did not last more than a year in any of his four coaching jobs.
At the moment, one person said, United does not have a top candidate.
The plan, another person said, is to talk to about 20 candidates by mid-November, trim the list to five or six, then offer the job by mid-December.
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