Chang assumes control of United

WASHINGTON -- Will Chang, D.C. United's new executive chairman and lead owner, has pledged continuity and focus on East Capitol Street as he takes the reins from close friend and former club partner Victor MacFarlane.Optimism abounded when MacFarlane and Chang bought United from Anschutz Entertainment Group two years ago as the club pursued its vision for a new, soccer-specific stadium anchoring a mixed-use urban development project in the Washington area. MacFarlane's time at the helm featured a series of frustrating setbacks in that quest, however, and with the stresses of a global economic slowdown in the background he has elected to sell his shares in the club to focus on his "core business," real estate investment firm MacFarlane Partners.But Chang remains bullish about United's prospects both on and off the field and says he's committed to the bond he has rapidly built -- at pregame tailgates and in the stands at RFK Stadium -- with the team's most dedicated fans."Nothing's really changed," he said on Friday. "Victor was one of my best friends before we bought the team, he's been one of my best friends during the ownership together, and he'll continue to be one of my best friends from here on out."Nothing's changed in the front office, in the management. Nothing's changed in terms of my relationship with the fans -- I'm going to continue to go out to Lot 8 and share a beer with the fans. I'm going to go out to the stands and cheer the team on with the fans and beat the drums whenever I have an opportunity to do so."In 2007, Chang was something of an unknown quantity for fans of the Black-and-Red, known mostly for his part ownership of Major League Baseball's San Francisco Giants. But the Bay Area-based investment mogul has since demonstrated a surprising fervor for soccer, and United's performances in particular. Though the baseball also figured in his early childhood, he speaks fondly of the beautiful game's abiding influence on his adolescent years."I grew up playing right fullback and playing catcher," said Chang. "So those are the two sports that I grew up with, and then I went to boarding school in England, and there was no baseball, but I continued to play soccer there. I've always been part of the game in terms of my passion for the sport."Inspired by the incomparable George Best, a flamboyantly gifted superstar who lit up the English game before finishing his career in the North American Soccer League, Chang began following Manchester United during his high school years."George Best in the early '70s was a phenomenal player, a phenomenal striker. And he was my favorite player to watch," he explained. "I had no affiliation to any team in England and I really became a Manchester United fan when I saw George Best play -- unbelievable."Now Chang has pinned his hopes on the bevy of young talent which has reinvigorated the current D.C. side, whose plucky propensity for late comebacks also drew his praise. He believes the Black-and-Red can contend for CONCACAF Champions League honors later this season and even drew an indirect comparison to United's 1998 squad, widely viewed as the best in the club's distinguished history."I'm very, very bullish on this year's team, primarily because we have many young players who could be the foundation of our team for the next four, five years," he said. "I really feel like this could be the re-emergence of D.C. United as the dominant team, like it was in 1998, where we could go on to win the CONCACAF and be a dominant player in the international arena."United's new owner says he has not been centrally involved in stadium negotiations and faces a "learning curve" to get up to speed. But in the long term, he will be approaching the matter differently from MacFarlane, whose background in urban redevelopment gave him a natural proclivity for a mixed-use venture. Chang is open to a range of concepts for D.C.'s future digs, as long as it's done right."If there are those who feel that a stadium could be a catalyst for their development, I'd be happy to participate. But the highest priority is to find a new home. I'm not really looking towards using the stadium for a large mixed-use development," he said. "I'm not really interested in making money from the real estate side. That's Victor's core business."