Hernán Losada’s tenure as D.C. United head coach has begun via Zoom calls from his home in Antwerp, Belgium.
“It’s new for me,” he said Tuesday, grinning. “I have to say, I need to get all the details about the transfer policy and all the rules in MLS. It’s quite complicated.”
About two weeks ago, deep into the Belgian season, Losada’s lone concern was coaching Beerschot through its return to the first division after a seven-year climb.
Then his agent called. United, which has seen better days, wanted to talk.
Since visiting former teammate Jelle Van Damme playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2017, Losada had set his sights on working in the United States.
“That was the turning point for me,” said Losada, who speaks four languages, including English. “I saw the facilities, watched a game, saw the competition, saw how huge MLS was, saw the sports culture in the U.S. They always stayed in my head.”
Meanwhile, United’s search had entered a third month. Negotiations with two serious contenders had dissolved. In all, the team had evaluated more than 25 candidates.
Through United’s global network of contacts, a new name surfaced: a 38-year-old, recently retired Argentine playmaker who was applying progressive principles into coaching.
A clause in Losada’s contract allowed him to explore other opportunities.
Although Losada had just 15 months of head coaching experience after more than a year as an assistant and under-21 guide, most everyone United contacted spoke highly of him.
A two-hour Zoom call convinced Kasper and technical director Stewart Mairs they had found their man.
“This is a guy we need to get in front of our owners,” Kasper recalled saying to Mairs. “Had he been there on Day One, he would’ve been our first choice.”
Losada shared his ideas and passion with ownership. Two days later, United offered the job. By this past weekend, the deal was done.
“It went very quick,” Losada said in his first interview since the announcement Monday morning. “Very fast.”
And just like that, a search that had stretched on so long that it had drawn ridicule around MLS was over. Losada signed a two-year contract with a one-year option to become the league’s youngest coach. He replaces Ben Olsen, who, after a club-record 10 seasons, was fired in October.
Losada has never been to Washington. The last time he was in the United States was that 2017 trip to California.
“I’ve been [in Europe] for 14 years now, so I leave behind a lot of friends,” said Losada, a popular figure at Beerschot since his playing days. “It was my second home, but I am ready for a new challenge.”
The challenge begins by learning not only about his new employer but about a new league. He is expected to retain United’s holdover assistants, Chad Ashton and Zach Thornton, and bring in someone else of his choice.
Since United first reached out, he said he has been doing his homework by watching D.C. matches and studying the roster.
“It was critical, in record time, to have as much information as I could to inform myself,” he said, “if it was the right time and the right moment.”
Losada will share ideas with Kasper and Mairs about possible player acquisitions in the coming weeks and months. United has at least five open roster slots and could sign a third high-end designated player.
He said he is eager to work with United’s trio of homegrown teenagers who gained experience last year. And United defender Frédéric Brillant was a Beerschot teammate in 2012-13.
“I see a lot of potential,” he said of a team that finished 5-12-6 in 2020 and missed the playoffs.
Losada’s wait for a visa coincides with the wait for MLS training camps and the start of the season. The coronavirus pandemic — coupled with labor issues between the league and its players’ union — is holding that up.
Once he does arrive, Losada plans to implement aggressive, high-energy tactics — a departure from Olsen’s typically blue-collar approach.
“My philosophy is offensive football,” Losada said.
His mentors include Marcelo Bielsa, the Argentine leader of Leeds United in the English Premier League. “The energy and the dynamic,” he said.
He also admires Atlético Madrid’s Diego Simeone, another compatriot, for finding tactical balance.
“Sometimes we make football too complicated,” Losada said. “You only have two moments — with the ball and without the ball — and it’s important your team knows what to do when you have the ball and when you don’t have it.”
His philosophical roots also derive from his playing career as a classic playmaker who emulated Argentine stars Pablo Aimar and Juan Román Riquelme.
This season, Beerschot is third in the league in scoring; in a six-game stretch in the fall, the club scored 22 goals. It also conceded 16 and is second worst defensively in the league.
Questioned about his coaching experience, Losada said his long playing career in Europe prepared him to become the boss.
“You can’t understate that experience as a player,” he said.
In 2015, three years before retiring, he began pursuing a UEFA Pro License, which is mandated for head coaching work in Europe’s top tiers. Twice a week, he attended classes.
In 2018, he worked as a journalist for a Belgian website at the World Cup in Russia, studying tactics and approaches.
All of the outside work, he said, “helped me prepare for the moment I stopped my football career.”
His Belgian life will continue for probably another month — enough time to pack, say goodbye and begin preparing for a U.S. adventure.
“A new challenge, a new opportunity,” he said. “I am full of energy.”
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