Through the years I had a “go” or two at D.C. United president Kevin Payne, who just relocated his big trunk of MLS knowledge north of the border to Toronto FC.
Whenever I did criticize Payne and, more or less interchangeably, D.C. United, it typically came down to one thing: failure to see the here and now.
United won four of the first nine league championships to leave a truly superb mark on the MLS formative years. The last MLS Cup crowning came in 2004.
But 2004 was roughly the final year of MLS 1.0; it was still a 10-team operation. That’s not to take a thing away from United; an MLS Cup is an MLS Cup, each one deserving of its own long, slow applause.
Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake joined MLS the next year. Soon after came Toronto and then San Jose’s rebirth. Then Seattle and … well, you get it. We’re at 19 teams today, with New York II still at sea, scanning for a port in the Big Apple harbor.
Each club added new ideas and bright new minds to reinforce Major League Soccer’s competitive structures. Long story short, it was never going to be as easy to be king of MLS hill. Only, I never got the feeling that D.C. United understood.
Thus, as I wrote a few times before, a feeling of entitlement crept into the organization. When that happens in sports, it affects the decisions being made. That’s where I believe Payne and DCU lost the plot a little.
All this is Potomac water under the bridge now, except for this part: If Payne can adjust in his new position at Toronto FC, there’s no reason he can’t pull that sad organization out of the ditch. Because Payne did, in fact, figure out MLS before almost everyone else. He’s clearly got something on the ball; perhaps a fresh perspective around BMO Field (pictured), free of the obscuring haze of early MLS largesse, can inspire Payne anew.
I could tell you more about that early MLS success and how Payne went about it (something I did not get to write as much about over the last few years), but someone else already did it eloquently.