WASHINGTON, November 21, 2012 — He oversaw a club that won a total of 12 domestic and international titles, including a record four MLS Cups. Now, D.C. United president and CEO Kevin Payne, a man who loved to stand on the sidelines and watch his team train, is stepping down after nearly two decades with the D.C. outfit.
There are unconfirmed reports that Payne may be moving to another club, possibly Toronto FC.
Payne, 59, had been at the helm of United since the team was founded at the inception of MLS in 1996. He hired former Virginia coach Bruce Arena and the club went on to appear in the first three MLS Cups - winning two (1996,1997), becoming the flagship team of the league.
“As D.C. United begins a new chapter, Kevin’s leadership has helped to prepare us for this important and potential-filled inflection point in the club’s history,” said co-owner Jason Levien, who took over the club this summer along with Erick Thohir.
Payne was involved with Arena in luring Bolivian stars Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno to the club, as well as American talent John Harkes, Jeff Agoos and Eddie Pope. Payne also hired coaches Thomas Rongen and Peter Nowak who won MLS Cups in 2000 and 2004 respectively.
“For me, D.C. United has been like my child,” Payne said in a statement. “We brought the team into the D.C. and national sports world 17 years ago and every day since – good and bad – has been a labor of love.”
Payne, who underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2008, saw his club go through some turbulent years, notably 2010, when it ended the season as the worst team in the league. But the club bounced back this year to reach the Eastern Conference Final. United finished the 2012 campaign 17-10-7 (58 points), placing third in the overall league table.
While Payne helped his club find success on the field, the one albatross around his neck was the club’s failure to find its own soccer-specific stadium in a league where most clubs have financed the building of their own venues.
First and foremost at United, Payne was a soccer man, knowledgeable and passionate about the sport in America and the world. He was never afraid to challenge a reporter’s view of his team. He boldly defended his club and had a great rapport with the team’s fans.
“Very few people in American soccer have put their stamp on a club as Kevin has with D.C. United,” said United Head Coach Ben Olsen. “His loyalty to the team and me is something for which I’ll always be indebted.”
John Haydon wrote a weekly soccer column for The Washington Times. He has covered two World Cups and written about Major League Soccer from the league’s inception in 1996. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnahaydon
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