So what is the reason for Payne leaving is the question that has to be asked. I think the reason can be found in Payne's own quote for the release:
“For me, D.C. United has been like my child. 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. This team has provided many great memories of championships and historic accomplishments, but I will best remember the people I've had the chance to meet, to work with, strive with, celebrate with, and sometimes to share disappointment with.
“To the players, coaches, co-workers and fans, I can only say thank you so much for the great privilege of having been part of the D.C. United family. It’s very difficult for me to express how I have felt, and still feel, about all of you."
When a child reaches a certain age, you have to let him or her go. Payne can't exactly break DC United's dinner plate or throw its belongings into Lot 8 at RFK Stadium. But I think he can step down, and let his child grow on its own.
Looking back on Payne's tenure, perhaps there are only two things I would consider failures. The first and most obvious is the lack of a stadium. To be sure, navigating the shifting political grounds of the District of Columbia government is no easy feat, compounded by government personnel who may not be the "cleanest" shall we say. But during a time when DC United was the most successful team in the DC sports landscape, it is hard to overlook the fact that DC is still playing in a 40 year old relic of a stadium and paying way too much money to do so.
Second failing of DC United is a little less noticeable. Under Payne's watch, DC United has struggled with finding quality DP's and top tier veterans. With the exception of Dwayne DeRosario, a very know quality player in the MLS, DC United has not been able to adequately find Designated Players worth the money being spent for their services. The past five years have been largely a failure in that regard.
But there have been some very good facets of DC United under Payne. First, I think that the relationship between the front office and the fans is solid. While the front office does not defer to fans in terms of decisions, the supporters groups have generally found at least an opportunity to be heard. In the end, there is not much more that can be asked for.
I know that all MLS clubs are active in their communities, but I just feel like DC United has gone above and beyond in such regard. While players and clubs are contractually required to make public appearances and perform charitable work, the efforts made by the club and players appears genuine.
Finally, I believe that DC United under Payne has done a wonderful job promoting the game of soccer in the area. True, DC United has benefited with quality home grown players like Bill Hamid and Andy Najar. But the club is expanding its Academy programs and I believe that the next logical step for the club will be a residency academy for players at the U16 and U 18 levels. But Payne lead the effort to integrate the academy and the First Team in a farsighted effort that means that the club is starting to benefit from its academy system directly.
So as Payne moves on to the troubled child of Toronto, I think he can fairly say that he leaves DC United poised for more success. It may be hard to leave a child on its own, but Payne can take pride that he has done all he could do to prepare the club to succeed on its own.
So, as a former sailor, Fair Winds and Following Seas, Kevin. Thanks for the memories.