National Soccer Hall of Fame member Kevin Payne (2021), whose decades of work as a soccer executive fueled the growth of the sport in America, has died. He was 69.
“Kevin cared deeply about this sport and the people involved in it,” said Djorn Buchholz, executive director of the National Soccer Hall of Fame. “His passion will be irreplaceable. We will miss him and we will make sure his legacy will not be forgotten.”
Payne played soccer in college and at the semi-pro level. He started his career as a radio journalist in New York and as an events executive in Colorado. In 1989, he went to work as the National Administrator of U.S. Soccer, and he later became president of Soccer USA Partners, which owned the broadcast and event promotion rights for the U.S. Men’s National Team before the 1994 World Cup.
When Major League Soccer formed, he led the investment group that established D.C. United and built the club into the league’s first dynasty, including the hiring of legendary coach Bruce Arena. In all, Payne spent 15 years as president and general manager of D.C. United. During that time, the team won four league championships and two U.S. Open Cup titles.
But his work made an impact far beyond the nation’s capital.
At one point, when MLS had dwindled to a handful of owners, Payne was in charge of six teams: LA Galaxy, Colorado Rapids, Chicago Fire, MetroStars, San Jose Earthquakes and — of course — D.C. United. Payne worked closely with the league’s most dedicated leaders to ensure its future.
“Most of the credit for that needs to go to Phil Anschutz and the Hunt family and the Kraft family, but I did my part,” Payne said at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony. “Our objective was to try to create stability and predictability so that we could try to bring in new investors and buy those teams — and we did that in a relatively short period of time.”
Even after he left MLS, Payne was a tireless supporter of the league’s players and an advocate for the recognition of their talent. He enjoyed being inducted into the Hall of Fame with former D.C. superstar Jaime Moreno — and even though Payne was in poor health, he attended the induction ceremony in 2022 to celebrate with United’s Marco Etcheverry.
“I had heard about Kevin and his accomplishments for years. It wasn’t until he became a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2021 that I got to see firsthand what a great man he was,” Buchholz said. “It tells you a lot about a person’s character when they make it a point to drive across the country, even with a severe illness, because he had to be in Frisco to see Marco Etcheverry get inducted to the Hall of Fame this past May.”
From 2015 until his retirement at the end of 2021, Payne served as CEO and executive director of US Club Soccer. In 2011, he was awarded the Werner Fricker Builder Award by U.S. Soccer, and 10 years later, he was elected to the Hall of Fame from the Builder ballot.
“I wanted to make a difference in our sport,” Payne said. “I wanted to accomplish something. I wanted to leave something behind which would live on after I was gone. I’ve tried my best. I hope I’ve succeeded.”