By AVI CREDITOR
WASHINGTON — Upon their first public remarks after becoming major investors in D.C. United, the club's two newest owners wasted no time in addressing the one thing that the club's supporters have been eagerly and patiently waiting to have resolved: A new stadium.
At a press conference at the W Hotel announcing the acquisition of stakes in the club by Erick Thohir and Jason Levien that will have them join Will Chang in the owners' box, the three were on a united front to find a permanent place for the club while bringing it back to prominence, even going as far as proclaiming a vision of D.C. United becoming a global brand.
"We've got two focuses," said Levien, a former attorney, sports agent and current minority owner of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers. "To make D.C. United the gold standard of MLS. To find D.C. United a permanent home. I know there have been a lot of stops and starts along the way, but the three of us have a real commitment to making that happen."
Levien and Thohir were the culmination of Chang's long search to bring in partners to help direct the team. With Chang, who resides in California and also is an owner of the San Francisco Giants, unable to maintain a consistent presence with the club, the organization needed other committed individuals to really make headway on major issues.
With D.C. players Chris Pontius, Perry Kitchen, Robbie Russell and Josh Wolff, coaches Ben Olsen, Pat Onstad and Chad Ashton and general manager Dave Kasper in attendance, Chang opened with remarks about how these two specific individuals were the ideal ones to help him make his dreams as club owner a reality.
"My first dream for D.C. United is to find a permanent home," said Chang, who became the sole owner after Victor Macfarlane sold his shares in 2009. "The second dream is to turn D.C. United into a global brand. In Jason and Erick I found the perfect partners to fulfill my dream."
Thohir, an Indonesian media magnate and part owner of a number of sports franchises — including owning a stake in the 76ers where he works with Levien — resides in Indonesia. As a result, Levien, who resides in New York, has a home in the D.C. area and was a former staffer under Bill Clinton's administration, will be the more prominently visible owner of the three.
Levien will be present at D.C.'s next home game, a friendly against Paris-St. Germain on July 28. Thohir, a vice president of the Indonesian Olympic committee, will be representing the Indonesian delegation at the London Games during that time. He said his first game at RFK Stadium will be the Sept. 23 clash against Chivas USA.
"Erick and I will be involved in all the major decisions that are to be made, but Erick and I have asked Jason to represent the ownership as managing partner, to lead our efforts to get us a permanent home and provide oversight for our business," Chang said. "In terms of the financial resources, with Erick and Jason we're so much stronger financially, and Jason has a clear mandate from Erick and me to pursue opportunities on that basis."
When the issue of spending big on Designated Players was brought up, Thohir and Levien were both quick to say that their additional resources will be put to use to attract top talent to the club. Using Thohir's connections to the Asian market is also a resource that club will look to use to its advantage.
"We're willing to spend money, but we're not willing to break the atmosphere that (Olsen) has created here," said Thohir, the most soccer-savvy owner of the three who added that players on his radar would not include any whose individual brand would supercede that of the team.
Chang's process of bringing in the new partners began 8-to-9 months ago, when Levien was in Indonesia visiting Thohir, who was throwing his parents a 50th anniversary party. It happened to coincide with when the Los Angeles Galaxy were in the country as part of their postseason tour, and investing in MLS became a topic of conversation.
"Erick had a strong conviction for soccer and MLS and having an opportunity to make a difference here in the United States," Levien said. "I don't take this opportunity lightly. It's been very thought through, that's why it took eight months to get to this point today. We're committed to seeing this through. You're going to see that more through our actions than our words."
While the three addressed other plans for the future in terms of player acquisitions and expanding the brand both in the United States and internationally, the stadium issue was at the forefront. Now it's on Levien and Thohir to deliver unlike their predecessors and end the ongoing search for a permanent home in the nation's capital for one of the league's original franchises.
"We see a pathway, but we also know that we'll have to use our machete to get there," said Levien, who added that he frequently attended D.C. United games when living in the area in the 1990s. "We know there are going to be some hurdles along the way, but we're excited to take them on.
"There's a lot of history at RFK. Obviously it isn't the ideal place to play. We're going to live with it for now and do the best we can with that and use that history to our advantage. We're excited to get out of there, and we're excited for a new home, a great new home."