Kevin Payne said he got emotional when he spoke to the D.C. United staff on Wednesday about his departure from the club. Things had sunk in a bit more by the time he talked to a few reporters later in the afternoon, but his passion has never been in doubt. Here are some highlights:
“It’s a very sad time for me, but also a very exciting time. It goes without saying there will always be a part of me here at D.C. United. I began this adventure back in the spring of 1994. It’s been quite a wonderful ride in the intervening years. It’s always difficult but always exciting to have change. I think this is really the right time for me personally, and I think it’s a good time for D.C. United for a change like this.
“It was 100 percent my doing. I have new opportunities, new adventuress I want to undertake, but the excitement is tempered by a pretty deep sense of sadness, too… For me this is a strange day, not necessarily a day I ever maybe thought I would see. But my wife and I have spent a lot of time talking about this, and I really think it’s the right thing for me, and I do honestly it will be a good opportunity for D.C. United to maybe do things differently and move to a whole new level.”
Payne said the opportunity arose about six weeks ago: “For some time I’ve been thinking about whether it was time for me to seek a new challenge, and whether D.C. United’s interest would be better served by new thinking about how to address them. I have tried to be very open in the way I think about things and tried not get too hung up on a certain way of doing things, but I think we are all guilty of that at some level… [Jason Levien] encouraged me to do whatever I thought was the right thing for me, which I appreciated. I think remaining here at D.C. United was certainly an option. But I really did come to believe that it made sense for me to try to do something different at this point in time. I still feel young, I’m in great shape physically, and I feel excited about a new challenge.”
On what will be different at D.C. United without him: “Everything will be different. It’s up to everybody here to make sure that it’s all better. There’s very good leadership and really a lot of talent on the staff here… It’s going to be different. I’ve been the voice and the face and the conscience, if you will, of D.C. United since 1994. There’s no way it can’t be different, but that can be a very good thing.”
On being influenced by the new stability the club has with Levien and Erick Thohir as owners vs. potential leaving the club when the future wasn’t as clear: “That was pretty important to me. I’ve had a very paternal feeling about the people who work here. I feel very protective of them, I feel very responsible for them. I’ve certainly had plenty of people approach me with opportunities over the years, whether it’s been in soccer or other sports. But I just felt like the time was right. I do think that the new ownership is stable, and I think that they’re ready to move things forward. Had it been in the recent past, I might not have felt comfortable moving on now. But I think now that Will [Chang] has partners in Jason and Erick, it’s something that I felt very comfortable about.
“Clearly the team on the field is on the right track. I think that the team’s relevance and credibility in the marketplace has really been restored. And I think the stadium project, we’ve made a lot of progress in it. There’s still a lot more work to do. It’s by no means a done deal, but I feel pretty good about where it is in the process. It just seemed like this was an opportune time for me to take up a new challenge.”
D.C. United general manager Dave Kasper was under the weather today but passed on this message: “It’s been a pleasure working with Kevin for the past decade – he’s been a friend and mentor. I wish him all the best with his new opportunity. I’m excited to continue building off a great season and for what the future lies with this club.”
Next, D.C. United coach Ben Olsen, who also confirmed a couple of newsy bits, that Josh Wolff is retiring to become a permanent part of the coaching staff and that Olsen himself is headed to South America on the first of what could be multiple scouting trips this offseason.
On what changes with Payne’s departure: “Nothing’s changing down here, on my side and Dave’s side. Kevin’s always a guy we’d bounce ideas off of because he’s a bright guy, and he knows the game. But ultimately, I’ve always been given the respect here and been able to make my own decisions on how I want this team to go forward. Obviously, with a lot of information and help from Dave and my coaching staff, we’ve been able to put together a good foundation that we’re excited about in the future. Nothing really changes besides not having another voice down here to bounce ideas off of.”
On Payne’s unique character and hunger for the game of soccer: “Kevin knows the game. Kevin knows soccer, and there have been times where he’s said some things that have actually changed the way I look at the game. He’s a very knowledgeable guy, both from the soccer side and the business side so I’ve taken a lot from Kevin. In a lot of ways, he’s been paternal to me in my time here. It’s sad to see him go.
“He’s been around the game a lot. He loves talking soccer. He has a passion for the game like we do, like coaches and players do. He studies the game, and I’ve always enjoyed our conversations about the game. We’ve agreed at times; we’ve disagreed at times, but he always makes you think, and he’s made me a better coach by challenging some of my ideas. Sometimes he’s made me think differently.”
On Wolff’s changing role: “He’s been unbelievable. He’s got a different skillset than I do. I think he’s the perfect complement to our group right now. He’s a very bright guy, and he’s a good teacher. He’s very analytical in the way he goes about things, and I think he’s going to really continue to help our group.”