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Interview outtakes: D.C. United's new ownership

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So now that D.C. United have formally introduced Erick Thohir and Jason Levien as new co-owners joining Will Chang, what changes can we expect within the club? I explored the topic in today’s print-edition story and provide further perspective in my On Soccer column running tomorrow.

If you were curious about the dollar amount involved in the deal, Forbes has reported that the club is valued at $50 million, making the transaction the most expensive in league history. When the league kicked off in 1996, each franchise contributed just $5 million.

In addition to speaking during Tuesday’s news conference at the W Hotel, the audio from which is available here, United’s new leadership contingent opened up to reporters with less-formal interviews in the event’s aftermath. Here are some of the more intriguing excerpts that didn’t make it into my two articles:

Co-owner Will Chang

On whether he feels relief to find new partners:

“It’s not a matter of relief. It’s just something I’ve been trying to do because I have this dream. It’s relief to the extent that I now have a partner who shares in the vision.”

On his decision to retain a stake in the club:

“I don’t think Erick and Jason would have come into the partnership if I wasn’t part of it. And it was very imporant for me to continue to be part of D.C. United. We were joking yesterday — once you have black and red going through your veins, you have black and red going through your veins the rest of your life. … I wasn’t going to sell out. I never intended to and I never will.”

On Levien’s role in stadium discussions:

“One of the commitments that he made is that he will have a presence here, and that’s what I needed. I’ve been somewhat frustrated in trying to get a stadium negotiation going becaue I’m not here all the time. I have a business to run and I have family in California. I needed somebody who would give us a continued presence on behalf of the ownership here, and Jason will be here all the time.”

On potentially signing high-profile players:

“One of my dreams is to turn D.C. United into a global brand. In order for us to be able to do that, we have to win championships. And we have to win championships with marquee players.”

On how quickly any player acquisitions may come:

“We’re certainly looking right now. But it’s not something we can do just because we wave a magic wand. It’s oftentimes a multiparty negotiation. We are certainly looking at a number of interesting opportunities.”

On the ownership’s role in personnel decisions:

“I never want to interject who we’re going to trade, who we’re going to bring in. That’s ultimately [general manager Dave Kasper and coach Ben Olsen’s] job. Having said that, Erick has a very, very deep domain, expertise and knowledge about soccer. His knowledge about players globally is infinitely better than mine. He can rattle off players, how much they make, who they’re playing for, how long they’ve been playing, how old they are. So to the extent that Erick is so interested in soccer, Erick and I will have greater say and there will be input. But ultimately, the person who’s going to be responsible for the win or loss and the performance on the field is Benny. If he is not 100 percent on board, we won’t move forward.”

Co-owner Erick Thohir

On how often he will visit the team:

“What I promised to Will and Jason is four times a year. It can be more. It’s tough — traveling is 24 hours from Indonesia to here. But it doesn’t mean I won’t be around. With all this technology, we can get in contact.”

On what he’s looking for in a stadium situation:

“We’re ready, but of course it’s a business. We want to have a good location for the fans. That’s No. 1 because say we have a stadium two hours from here — maybe it’s not D.C. United. No. 1, the stadium has to be good for the fans. No. 2, we’ll make sure the stadium is a modern stadium, like the Wi-Fi, the VIP box, good seats, not too far from the court.”

On how American sports compare to Indonesian sports:

“I don’t want to say bad things about Indonesia, but the way I see it is like this: The United States have a long success story about building leagues compared to any other country in the world. If you see like England, they only have soccer leagues. In the United States, you have football, you have basketball, you have ice hockey, you have soccer, and most of them doing pretty well.”

On the type of team he wants to build:

“I don’t want D.C. United to have 11 South Americans, five Chinese. … Maybe some of our young players come from other countries like Honduras, Argentina, Brazil. That’s good — we need that.”

On his experience attending a United match in May:

“Maybe because the stadium is too big, the atmosphere is a bit weird when the fans and also the game are not really close. But Jason and myself and Will have new ideas before we move to a new stadium. We can do some small renovations.”

On the playing style of MLS:

“The way they play soccer in the United States is more offense I believe. The defense is a bit, you know. But maybe that’s the way the league wants to be — high scoring, 3-2, 4-1. As long as the team wins. But when you play in the bigger league — for example, when you become champion and you play for CONCACAF — you need to have a strong defender and goalkeeper also.”

Co-owner Jason Levien

On how United can catch up with the league’s top franchises:

“Having a home where our fans can experience the game in an optimal way is a very big part of that. Beyond, we’re going to try to get to MLS 3.0. And we’re going to try to use D.C., and that’s what Erick and Will want to do, is using D.C. United to grow beyond Washington and grow internationally and become a brand that is recognized internationally. So I would say the home, the investment in training and players, including designated players and using them wisely. But there’s not much to criticize there — the team’s in first place.”

On the importance of having a stadium in an urban setting:

“I think that’s got to be a big priority, the closeness to public transportation, making it accessible for fans — not just the experience when you’re there but getting in and out is something we’ve already talked a lot about.”

On where the team stands in stadium talks:

“My impression is that Will and [president Kevin Payne] were waiting to get an infusion of new leadership and new ownership partners before we could hit the ground running.”

President Kevin Payne

On the process of finding new investors:

“We’ve been working pretty hard to find new partners for the last couple years, but not only find new partners but find the right partners and people that understood the tradition of the team and understood our market and that understood the opportunity here.”

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