- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2004

Former D.C. United coach Ray Hudson has spoken out for the first time since being fired in December. While “bitterly disappointed” about not being given a third year with the team, Hudson holds no grudges and is itching to get back into coaching.

Hudson believes he did a good job, but “it was not good enough for D.C. United,” a team that still considers itself the “best franchise in the league.”

“When I arrived, this team was in worse shape than Dallas and spiraling downwards,” Hudson said from his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., this week. “I put the brakes on that, and in the second year we got into the playoffs. Now the club is in the ascendancy.”

Hudson says he and his loyal assistant, John Trask, took on a giant mission and made good headway.

“We were handed a desperate team and we were told this was a championship club,” he said. “That was atrocious. John and I were seeing a very different team from what the management saw.”

Hudson’s biggest “bone of contention” last season was the failure of the club to find a goal scorer. American World Cup forward Earnie Stewart was signed at the beginning of the year to give the team firepower, but the high-salaried veteran found the back of the net once.

“I took on Earnie in hope,” Hudson said. “I was told he would score goals in [Major League Soccer], but that was wishful thinking.”

Hudson in no way blames Stewart, who he says helped hold the team together but needed to play behind a talented striking partner.

“The expectations placed on Earnie were very high,” he said.

In retrospect, Hudson wishes he had tinkered more with the team in his first season in 2002.

“We didn’t make changes because we were told this was a championship team,” Hudson said. “In the second year, we made changes but had to contend with one controversy after another and the loss of the best goalie in the league.”

Asked if he would have done some things differently, Hudson said hiring Bulgarian striker Hristo Stoitchkov, even though he did win some games for the team, “was an experiment that didn’t work and caused unrest at the end of the season.” He also said Bulgarian defender Galin Ivanov was “too much a European-style player” and didn’t fit in with the style of the club.

On the plus side, Hudson is proud of bringing on board Mike Petke, Eliseo Quintanilla and Dema Kovalenko.

“[United] is not an easy place to be resolute,” Hudson said. “You are under extreme pressure with very strong restrictions placed on you. We improved in both years, and you can’t argue with that. We got to the playoffs and got beat by a team that went to the final. We did a good job but it wasn’t good enough for D.C. United.”

Hudson says his best memory is of the team’s decent run last summer, when some were calling the club a “championship contender.” His worst moment was when goalie Nick Rimando tore his ACL against the MetroStars in September.

“When Nicky went down in New York, I turned to John [Trask] and said that we were [finished],” Hudson said. “I knew at that moment I could be out at the end of the season. The main wheel came off then. After Benny Olsen got injured, it was just a bridge too far.”

The pain of leaving Washington has still not quite healed for the British-born coach.

“I have no hard feeling toward [D.C. bosses] Kevin [Payne] or [Stephen] Zack,” he said. “It just feels we were given a very severe blow. You get the pat on the back and the ‘well done, but it’s not good enough,’ and to try and sleep with that is tough. I got the feeling the management thought I didn’t want to be there, but that was the complete opposite [of the truth].”

Hudson is proud of his four years of coaching in MLS, first with the Miami Fusion and then with United. he says he hopes to work again with people like United’s technical director, Dave Kasper.

Said Hudson: “I took two clubs that were flat on their bellies and got them both standing up again.”

Hudson and Trask are longing to get back on the sideline and will be watching MLS closely.

“We are just waiting for the call.” Hudson said. “Some coaches ended last season on the bubble and weren’t let go, so maybe the call will come early.”

Meanwhile, Hudson is still basking in the glow of recently being the first soccer personality inducted into the Miami Sports Hall of Champions. As they say, you can’t keep a good man down.

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