Few executives beyond Major League Soccer HQ in New York have meant as much to domestic professional soccer than Kevin Payne.
If we aren’t counting league officials (i.e., only talking about club officers), the longtime president of D.C. Untied has probably been the most influential non-owner since the league’s inception.
Today, Payne is on the move. The club has announced his departure, but without comment on Washington Post reports that his new MLS address will be at BMO Field with Toronto FC.
Payne had become something of a lightning rod around RFK Stadium. On the one hand, he was the architect of all those good times around the venerable ground, the early successes at the gate and in the win-loss column.
But the last few years have been lean, to say the least. There was a succession of failed coaches. The gap in playoff appearances (2007 until this year) could be traced not just to that coaching instability, but to a succession of flawed roster choices. Payne and GM Dave Kasper were always at the top of the player selection totem pole, a fact not lost on restless DCU faithful.
And there is the ongoing, seemingly never ending pursuit of a new stadium, one more befitting a club that once reigned competitively over MLS – but one that fell behind the times and sometimes demonstrated a lack of self-awareness, the aging lothario of MLS clubs, if you will.
It’s hard to pin the perennially stalled stadium negotiations on Payne. Truly, that thing has been a politically anchored mess that might have been impossible for anyone to untangle. Still, it will be one of his legacies, fairly or unfairly.