Kevin Payne, former president of DC United, dies aged 69

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Kevin Payne, a National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee who oversaw DC United’s rise from an early MLS dynasty as the club’s founding president and general manager, died Sunday in Charleston, SC, of ​​a long-term lung illness. He was 69 years old.

“It saddens me greatly to report that Kevin Payne passed away this morning,” Sunil Gulati, who served as president of the United States Soccer Federation from 2006 to 2018, told The Washington Post. “He was surrounded by his family and at peace after a long and difficult battle. We will all miss him terribly.”

The cause of death was idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, said his daughter Rebecca Payne.

An influential figure in the growth of football in the United States over the past three decades, Payne built United’s original investment group ahead of the inaugural MLS season in 1996 and was the club’s chief executive from 1994 to 2001 and again from 2004 to 2012. Since 2015, he has been CEO and Executive Director of football development organization US Club Soccer.

“He was a good friend,” said Gulati, “and an absolutely critical part of the growth of the sport over the past 30 years.”

United were particularly prolific during Payne’s first stint, winning three of the first four MLS Cup championships, two Supporters’ Shield titles for posting the league’s best regular season record, and the 1996 US Open Cup.

The team was led from the start by former University of Virginia coach Bruce Arena, who would lead the U.S. men’s team to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup, and featured the likes of Bolivian stars Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno and the US national team. strong Eddie Pope and John Harkes. United also dominated the region, defeating Mexico’s Toluca in the 1998 Concacaf Champions Cup – one of three continental titles won by MLS teams.

“He will always be remembered as a dedicated champion of our club, MLS, our community and football in the United States,” said United. said in a statement🇧🇷 “Our deepest condolences go out to his family.”

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After leaving the club to serve as Vice President and Managing Director of AEG Soccer in 2001, Payne took charge of six MLS teams – Los Angeles Galaxy, Colorado Rapids, Chicago Fire, New York/New Jersey MetroStars, San Jose Terremotos and United – as the fledgling league navigated contraction and financial uncertainty. He returned to United as chairman and CEO in 2004 as the team won its fourth and most recent MLS Cup title. DC also won two more Fans’ Shields and another US Open Cup title before Payne stepped down in 2012 and embarked on a year-long stint as president and general manager of Toronto FC.

“Kevin leaves a legacy of not only success in business and sports, but will also be remembered for his strong moral compass, his kindness and his devotion to his friends and family,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. “His passing will be deeply felt by everyone at MLS and the entire football community.”

Payne was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2021 under the institution’s “builder” designation, and won US Soccer’s Werner Fricker Builder Award in 2011. (Fricker was president of US Soccer when he hired Payne as national administrator in 1989 .) Payne was added to United’s Hall of Tradition in 2015.

Survivors include his wife, Pam, and their daughters, Ashley and Rebecca.

Born March 5, 1953, Payne worked as a radio journalist in New York and as a special events executive in Vail, Colorado, before taking the executive job at US Soccer in 1989. Two years later, he became president of Soccer USA Partners, a company that owned the marketing and broadcast promotion rights for the United States men’s national team in the run-up to the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

During his National Soccer Hall of Fame induction speech, Payne recalled his early days at United as some of the “nicest moments” of his working life. He also recalled his encounter with Fricker over 30 years ago, when Fricker asked him why he wanted to work in football.

“I told Werner Fricker I wasn’t looking for a job,” said Payne, whose first exposure to the sport was a delayed showing of the 1966 World Cup Final. “I wanted to make a difference in our sport, I wanted to accomplish something, and I wanted to leave something behind that would live on after I was gone. I tried my best. I hope I made it.”

Scott Allen and Steven Goff contributed to this report.

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