D.C. United’s Agents Of Change?

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Ally Mackay became the first new top soccer executive at D.C. United in roughly two decades when he was appointed as GM and chief soccer officer this week. And in accepting the offer from club chairman and CEO Jason Levien, he also entered into a very unique battery — a former player agent turned club executive, hired by a former player agent turned team owner.

But as unusual as that combination may be, Mackay will inherit a position with the potential to set a new trend in MLS and possibly beyond with a successful tenure at one of the league’s original giants. And if he can lean upon his connections from his days representing player interests and the lessons he learned as Nashville SC’s assistant GM to restore D.C. to a trophy contending club, it’s the kind of turnaround that is bound to lead to copycats.

United’s position as a former dynasty fallen on hard times provides an opportunity for Mackay to make a larger impression than at most clubs.

United are one of a handful of MLS originals to have struggled in recent years, despite the 2018 opening of the long-awaited Audi Field that was supposed to propel the team back to its former glory. In reality the opposite has happened, with D.C. only reaching the playoffs twice since the venue opened.

D.C. still leads all MLS clubs in combined domestic and international major trophies won — 13 in total — and yet it hasn’t lifted one since a somewhat unlikely run to the 2013 U.S. Open Cup title in an otherwise miserable year.

Even so, Washington remains one of the nation’s better soccer markets, consistently ranking near the top of TV ratings for English Premier League and U.S. men’s and women’s national team broadcasts. And the city’s other major professional sports teams are all in various stages of rebuilding, which gives D.C. a unique opportunity to not only make Audi Field into a popular destination but capture the imagination of an entire city yearning for a winner. It’s the kind of recipe that could turn Mackay and the new manager — whom he will be in charge of hiring — into local folk heroes in a best-case-scenario.

Further, if Mackay does prove a success, market conditions suggest there may be more former player agents in MLS — and the larger soccer world — who are interested in club executive roles.

We’ve already seen a little of this. Mackay — who worked mainly for London-based ICM Stellar Sports — is actually the second active MLS GM who once represented players, after Charlotte FC’s Zoran Krneta, who spent 15 years running his own European agency. And at LAFC, John Thorrington also has experience on the player representation side having previously worked an assistant to MLS Players Union executive director Bob Foose.

Also, the implementation of new FIFA regulations for agents last month could drive more agents to consider a transition into a club role.

The directives — which include a new license requirement and change how agents earn their commissions — are expected to decrease the total number of agents working in the field and potentially decrease agent earnings, arguably making club jobs more lucrative in the process.

In the meantime, Levien seems likely to give Mackay considerable rope, perhaps because he sees his reflection when looking upon his new hire.

Levien once represented NBA players like Undonis Haslem, Kevin Martin and Luol Deng, and then briefly worked in an NBA front office for the Sacramento Kings before making a second transition to team ownership. And his familiarity with that league will make him aware of what former agents have done in leadership roles. None are more well known than former Golden State Warriors president Bob Myers, who was twice an NBA executive of the year and four times an NBA Champion.



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