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Payne leaving D.C. United to take over as Toronto FC president

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There may be no team official more synonymous with a club in Major League Soccer than Kevin Payne has been with D.C. United, but after 17 seasons with the team, Payne is moving on to a new challenge with a new team.

Sources have confirmed to SBI that Payne is leaving D.C. United to take over as team president of Toronto FC. Payne’s departure, first reported by the Washington Post, came as a surprise in MLS circles, but TFC’s search for a leader to help the club’s struggling fortunes have landed them one of the most respected officials in MLS.


Payne’s move to Toronto FC should make for an interesting month and year ahead for the Canadian club as Payne makes decisions on the front office and coaching situations. Paul Mariner had been expected to remain as ahead coach heading into 2013, but that seems like it could be in jeopardy of Payne decides to go in another direction.

Payne already has some established ties to the TFC front office. Current Director of Team and Player Operations Earl Cochrane worked for two years as D.C. United’s Director of Communications while TFC Academy director Thomas Rongen was once a head coach at D.C. United, winning the 1999 MLS Cup with the club.

Payne has been a key figure in D.C. United’s successful tenure in MLS, a run that has seen the club win four MLS Cup titles, four MLS Supporters Shields and two U.S. Open Cup titles. New ownership arrived earlier this year and has taken on a more prominent role in the club, paving the way for Payne’s exit.

What do you think of this development? See D.C. United succeeding without Payne? Where do you see him winding up?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. I’m a DCU fan and there’s no conspiracy. I think this is a win for both teams.

    1. For DCU, Payne was too involved in team matters, too interventionists and sometimes too passionate (he’s had at least two incidents where he chased referees into their dressing room to berate them). The new ownership is hands-on…Payne couldn’t co-exist with them. I hate to see a guy who bled red and black and an original from the first day of the franchise go…but I believe DCU is better off. They need someone to concentrate on the business side of the house (ticket sales, the plans for a new stadium, operations management) and those aren’t Payne’s strengths…he’s okay at them.

    2. For TFC, they get a guy who will be more passionate then even the most passionate of the Red Patch Boys were in season 1. He’ll bleed for TFC. There will be no more charges by TFC fans that MLSE doesn’t care about TFC or they’re the redheaded stepchild of the MLSE empire. Payne will insure that the organization is aligned and focused, has a clear direction. The youth program will be improved, the support for the fans and the appreciation of their energy will be reciprocated. He knows MLS well and won’t have a learning curve. For TFC (and what that club needs), Payne is a good fit.

  2. Payne once said, “There are a lot of games in this league that I can’t watch.” Hopefully, his intervention will see to it that TFC will be responsible for far fewer of them!

  3. I’m glad he’s out. He served the club admirably and will forever be intertwined with the history of our club but it was time for a change as most DC fans will probably agree.

  4. Payne has always done a great job with building rosters and staffs, and the situation he leaves us in DC is a promising one. However, the club is losing money, and efforts to get a stadium have repeatedly floundered, so I suppose he gets low marks on that front. I expect him to turn around TFC in short order.

  5. Good news for both parties, I think he will help TFC’s turnaround and give United’s new owners some more room to do their thing. I think his fbomb laced speech from the upper bowl in snowy Red Bull arena to the Barra Brava was a perfect example of who this guy is and his commitment to his fans. Good luck!

  6. Bring back DeRo! :)))

    But in all honesty, these reeks like the Mo Johnston days… think about it. A manager being pushed out is picked up by TFC… hmmmmm!!!!

  7. So where is Thomas Rongen these days? I’m thinking he factored into luring Payne to TfC. Maybe Payne was on his way out and needed a job but this shows that MLSE is at least willing to spend some coin to right the ship, they just don’t know how to do it themselves.

    A new challenge for Payne will rejuvenate him after 17 years in the same office.

  8. correct me if im wrong, but didn’t the other guy who was involved with the DC stadium deal just take ajob with the Grizzlies or something? If that IS correct, I wonder if the stadium plan is falling apart, either because they’re leaving, or the reason for them leaving

  9. Dig a little deeper and you will find out that this was actually a trade. New ownership wanted Payne out and TFC wanted a new direction. In return for Payne, the Canadians sent twenty case of Molson, a dozen beaver pelts, a case of maple syrup and an old eight-track recording of William Shatner singing “Oh Canada.”

  10. This must be good news for TFC fans; maybe the first and only good news they’ve received all year. Hopefully he can turn that club around and get them to the playoffs.

  11. This is a stunner. After so many years of working on a stadium deal I feel for him that he won’t be around to see it come to fruition.

    That said, it may have been time for a change, and that often comes with new ownership.

    Payne has been heavily criticized in recent years by supporters, but it is self evident that he was instrumental in building United from the very beginning. As a United supporter since ’96 I thank him for his dedicated service to the Black-and-Red.

    • No, it’s not a stunner. It was clear this Levien character was investing in DC to get a job out of it. That made Payne expendable. I am surprised it took this long.

      • Yes, he invested down here so he could get a job. Like CEO of the Memphis Grizzlies. /sarc

        Levien won’t be President/CEO of D.C. United or anything else running the day-to-day operations of the club, though he appears to have taken over as the face of the organization in its stadium negotiations.

      • Jason Levien is the CEO of the Memphis Grizzlies. He doesn’t need a job, but the fact that’s he moving to DC makes me think he does want a big part in running the club. But can he run 2?

      • Yeah, “this Levien character” invested in DCU because he needed a job. I guess that’s why he recently accepted the position as CEO of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.

  12. As a DCU fan this was a long time coming. The guy built the foundation for the team, but MLS has passed him. The declinging attendance and inability to get a stadium were his undoing.

  13. Actually the opposite. DC fans have been calling for Kevin’s head for quite a while. Cue the DC fans trumpeting this as a move in the right direction. Given the new ownership and perhaps their assessment of Payne’s role in the club’s recent issues with high priced players who haven’t worked out and the stadium negotiations with the city, Payne’s departure may be a good thing for DCU.

    • You nailed it right on the head! FINALLY we are rid of Payne! The game has passed him by. It was much easier when you had Etcheverry, Moreno, and Pope. The league has changed significantly since those days and it was time for Payne to move on. All in all, this was a great year for DC United!!! Thanks Payne for the memories!

    • I’m a DC fan. I was glad to have Payne around at the start, but this seems to have been a long time coming. No conspiracy here. Not sure what a conspiracy theory would even be in this case? You can’t deny that we got screwed a couple of times in the NYRB series. Perhaps that’s why you think we’ll come up with some conspiracy theories?

      • Agreed about this being a long time coming. Fans have complained about him for years and arguably four failed DPs in a row has made a difference. (Emilio went from star to dud when he became a DP)

        He was probably under pressure and saw a new opportunity to take over a club that has resources but needs stability. I might not always agree with Payne, but he’ll give them the foundation they need.

        I think both parties will benefit.

    • DC fan, but sorry to disappoint, you’ll hear no conspiracy from me. The new ownership group is far more active in operating the club than any of the past 3 or 4, I’ve lost track. Jason Levien is moving to DC now in order to be there much more often. At a recent press conference, Levien did much of the talking while Payne looked a little uncomfortable not talking. Just the natural progression of things with a new, activist, ownership group.

    • Not this DCU fan. IMO, it’s well past time for Payne to go. IF he runs the TFC front office the same way he ran the DCU front office from 2001 – 2012, TFC will have a lot of totally crappy years

      I was a fan of his from 1996-2000 or so, but after that, his inability to get a stadium built for the team overshadows any of his previous accomplishments, Which were actually Bruce Arena’s accomplishments that Arena was very happy to take credit for.


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