Minnesota United hires Khaled El-Ahmad as new Chief Soccer Officer

Minnesota United has hired its new sporting leader.

After a search and interview process that took one month, Khaled El-Ahmad was named the Loons’ new Chief Soccer Officer on Monday. It’s a role in which the 42-year-old soccer lifer will be able to implement his vision for what the entire MNUFC sporting side will look like from a tactical playing style, hiring coaches to execute it and the profile of players within it — from the MLS side to the developmental second team, MNUFC2, and its youth academy.

El-Ahmad’s experience over the past two years in setting that broad course at Barnsley, a club in England’s third tier, was one of the chief reasons he was hired at MNUFC, the Pioneer Press understands. He held the title of CEO and Sporting Director at the League One club, overseeing technical strategy, roster construction, player development and also the club’s business operations.

With 15 years of overall experience on the sporting side of clubs, El-Ahmad also has worked for five years as a Concacaf and Scandinavian scout for City Football Group, and helped build the roster for New York City FC to win the MLS Cup in 2021. He has further experience in sporting departments at Djurgardens in Stockholm and AaB Aalborg in Denmark.

El-Ahmad had been a recent candidate the head of football position at Swedish club Hammarby.

“He has a tremendous background, a track record of success, exceptional technical vision, a leadership approach that matches our club values and beliefs, and an energy and focus about him that I personally love,” MNUFC CEO Shari Ballard said in a statement.

El-Ahmad is under contract with Barnsley until July, but MNUFC will be working with Barnsley to try to get him to Minnesota much sooner, hopefully by the start of the 2024 season or earlier to conduct transfers of players for next year’s MLS roster, the Pioneer Press understands.

This is a wrench in El-Ahmad being able to implement his vision in a quieter period on the calendar and during a pivotal offseason after the Loons (10-13-11, 41 points) finished 11th in the 13-team Western Conference and missed the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2023.

In the meantime, Loons assistant technical director Hank Stebbins, interim head coach Sean McAuley and others on staff will handle roster decisions for the club. MNUFC has to submit which player options it will pick up by early December.

El-Ahmad, born in Lebanon and raised in Sweden, also has Midwest connections. He attended Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he was a captain and defender on the men’s soccer team. His nickname on the team was “coach,” and he later became an assistant coach for the Marquette men’s team from 2006-08.

MNUFC generated an internal list of candidates for its new CSO position after releasing manager Adrian Heath and technical Mark Watson in early October. El-Ahmad also will hold the title of Sporting Director, which is an assuming of previous duties held by Heath, Watson and Manny Lagos, who was moved to Chief Development Officer a few weeks ago.

As CSO, El-Ahmad will, in turn, lead the hiring of the Loons’ next head coach, Ballard said on the club’s podcast last week.

It is unclear how El-Ahmad’s continuing role at Barnsley will affect his ability to be involved in the Loons’ important head coaching hire.

The Loons will begin preseason camp for the 2024 season in early January.

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