Q&A: Chad Ashton
Part 1: Interview before the MLS SuperDraft
Part 2: Interview with dcunited.com
Q: So Chad, after three years on United's coaching staff you are making the jump to Technical Director. What will be your biggest adjustment as you make this pivotal transition?
Ashton: I think the biggest thing is just learning the position – everything that it entails, every facet within the organization that goes along with it. Essentially it [the Technical Director role] involves understanding everything on the technical side of the club; from the first team to the youth academy and camps. It is my job to tie all of these elements together closely within the club in order to create a uniform system across all levels of the organization.
Q: How will your relationship with Curt Onalfo and his staff function in your new role?
Ashton: Recently I have been out looking at players. I took a trip to Costa Rica last weekend to look at a couple of players, while Dave [Kasper] and Curt [Onalfo] are scouting a few guys right now, and I will most likely be taking another trip in the next week or two. My role is to help formulate the team by creating as many options as possible in terms of personnel, and in the end Curt and the coaching staff will choose their players, but it is my responsibility to give them as many viable options as I can.
Q: You have a diverse background in soccer at all levels – how will your combined collegiate and professional experience guide your personnel decisions?
Ashton: I think over the years you get an idea as a player and as a coach of what you think will be successful. Either at the college level or in MLS, you tend to find players that you see fitting within your system – the shape that you see your team taking. Curt [Onalfo], Kris [Kelderman], and myself are going to sit down and focus on those specifics, but I think at all levels you are going to formulate opinions on how you see your team playing and what you want it to look like, and then you go out and find the players that can fit within that framework.
Q: On the pitch D.C. United has a proud history of attacking football. Do you plan to maintain this approach on a technical level, or are there other facets of the game you would like to focus on?
Ashton: I think the one big thing right now in terms of the team we are putting together is that we have to shore up the back. We need to give up fewer goals. The last couple of years we have been right at the top of the league in goals scored, but we have been giving up too many goals, and I think in the end that played a major part in us not making the playoffs. I think for this team solidifying the back is very important. We went out and got Troy [Perkins], and he will play a major role coming back to the club, and we are continuing to look to try and add pieces in defense - but honestly success comes from total team defending. We need guys who are not only going to play beautiful attacking soccer, but players that will contribute to both sides of the game and help us to be a complete team.
Q: You are a UNC alumnus, what hand did you play in bringing Tar Heel defender Jordan Graye to the club?
Ashton: Being in this area you get to see the ACC clubs more than other teams, so I was able to see the ACC sides on numerous occasions, and Jordan is a guy that not only went to the same college as myself, but he is a player that came from our youth academy. Jordan has history with the club and we are all familiar with who he is, but as far as us both being Tar Heels that is just a coincidence. The ACC is arguably the best soccer conference in the country, so it is the first place most MLS teams search for college players.
Q: As you mentioned, Jordan comes from United's youth development system. Much has changed over the last 10 years at the youth level in this country, how would you like to see this system evolve on a national scale over the next decade?
Ashton: Well I think we have already started to seriously evolve in MLS with our academy systems and club teams coming to play within that system. I really believe that the MLS club that creates a streamlined youth development approach that directly feeds into its first team will create a serious advantage for itself. We are fortunate here to have a large player pool in terms of youth players around this community, and we are able to look at a lot of players, and our goal is to get them into our club and have them log enough hours to bring them up through the ranks - much like Bill Hamid did this past year. I think our system will continue to grow and mirror the European set-up in terms of having players onboard full time, having them go to school and begin high-quality training at an early age.
Q: From an internal standpoint, how do you want to shape the direction of United's youth development? Where do you see this system in 5-10 years?
Ashton: Hopefully we will start to see the youth academy teams playing the same way that the first team is playing. At some point in time if you lose a couple of players to injury on the first team you would like to be able to be able to throw a young player in there that would know exactly what your system is. That way a youth player would know exactly what is expected of him so that he could comfortably embrace your tactics and the system. Ideally you want to have the same system being played at every level of the club, creating uniformity at each level.
Q: The MLS player pool is unique because of the league's access to collegiate athletes via the SuperDraft. This set-up does not exist in any other domestic football league. As Technical Director, how do you balance your incoming domestic talent with the club's international acquisitions?
Ashton: Regardless of how you view the league it is very clear how many foreign players you are allowed to have on your team. I think we are a club that uses that maximum amount [of international players] compared to other teams – we use it to play a unique brand of soccer on the field. But in the end, either as a coach or technical director, you are trying to put together the best possible team that you can. You want a group of guys that fit your system and give you the best chance to win on a consistent basis, regardless of their backgrounds.
Q: You began your MLS playing career with Dallas in 1996. The league has developed immensely since that time, but what change has been most apparent to you?
Ashton: Our league is just so much more visible now. You see it on television, you see it in the media. When players like [David] Beckham come to MLS the league is going to become more visible around the world, and the big change is that when we were first starting out no one really knew what to expect from our league. But now I think you can go to virtually any part of the world and people are going to know who D.C. United are, and I think that is how far the club has come and I think it is only going to get better. The league has done a tremendous job, [MLS Commissioner Don] Garber has done a tremendous job since he has come in, and I think you will continue to see great improvement in the future.
Q: Speaking of your playing days, what is your fondest memory?
Ashton: I won a couple of championships in Colorado [with the Colorado Foxes of the American Professional Soccer League]. In our first championship I scored the winning goal in the town that I grew up in with my parents watching, so that is something that I vividly remember.
Q: How is the 2010 first team roster shaping up? What are your early impressions?
Ashton: I think we have a very good nucleus coming back. There will be a few changes to our team, but you can see with the signing of Troy [Perkins] and [Danny] Allsopp the club is trying to address the areas where we feel we can improve. We want guys we can rely on. We know what are going to get from Troy game in and game out. We have a pretty good idea of what we are going to get from Danny, so we just need to add a few more pieces, and I think we are off to a great start so far.
Q: What can fans expect to see on the pitch this season at RFK Stadium?
Ashton: I think you can expect to see a very passionate team. Again, you will see a team that will defend as well as it attacks. There will be more balance this year in terms of us not giving up as many goals as we have the last couple of years. That being said, we will still play creative and attacking soccer, and we still want to be up at the top of the goal scoring charts.