With the 2012 season opener just over two weeks away, D.C. United's players and management are finalizing their goals for the upcoming campaign. Foremost is the challenge of ending the four-year drought that has seen the Black-and-Red miss out on the playoffs every year since 2007.
Following the recent announcement of Dwayne De Rosario's new contract, we caught up with Club President & CEO Kevin Payne, who had some candid - and at times harsh - remarks about the change he wants to see in D.C.'s dressing room.
When you give somebody a contract like this it really goes beyond the field. Clearly, with Dwayne there's a sense of community and growing the game in this area. How much of a factor did that play in making him the focal point of this franchise?
Kevin Payne: I think for a long time people took Dwayne a little bit for granted in our league. He was always a great athlete and he had this ability to pull off plays that you weren't necessarily expecting, and I think a lot of people didn't give him credit for how serious he is about his craft. I know I certainly didn't appreciate it fully until he joined our team when I then had a chance to watch every day how he goes about his job and takes care of his body and the things he eats - he's very very careful with his diet - I was really impressed by it. That's the kind of guy you want your young players looking up to and Dwayne's right, the young players in the room look to him to see what he's doing and how he's handling a situation. I think they are going to get the right example a lot more often than not.
There are a lot of other professional sports in this market, and it's no secret that the club is in a fight for its share of the pie. To that end, how important is it to have a central figure with a resume like Dwayne's?
KP: It's very important. Dwayne has credentials that nobody else in this market has. The one guy I can maybe think of - in the greater market - that perhaps you could make an argument about is Ray Lewis. Obviously among active players there's no one else who has won the number of things that Dwayne has won, and I'm not talking about the individual accolades, although no one else has won those either. The team success, there's not too many pro athletes anywhere in America who have four championship rings and two championship game MVP awards. That's pretty substantial bragging rights for us relative to our local brethren.
You touched on it earlier, but can you elaborate on what specifically you hope the younger guys take from Dwayne from a professionalism standpoint?
KP: I think they need to learn how to go about their job, the seriousness that they have to have in their everyday pursuit of excellence and the attitude they bring to games. The absolute refusal to lose, we have to get back to making this a place that no one wants to come in and play. Frankly, the last few years, that hasn't been the case. This is what Dave [Kasper] and Ben [Olsen] and I have set out to try to change over the last several years in our locker room. We want a change of culture. We want players who care very deeply and passionately. Young or old, we want guys who are going to commit to lay everything on the line for the team, for their teammates, for the fans, and we haven't been seeing that frankly. That's why we decided to make some pretty substantial changes this year. We really like what we are seeing from the new players that we have. I think there are a couple younger guys that get it. Perry Kitchen understands that stuff. In his own way, Chris Pontius understands that stuff. I hope we're going to see more leadership out of players like Brandon McDonald this year. I think Bill Hamid is really maturing and I think we're going to see him take a little bit bigger role on the field beyond just making saves. But Dwayne is going to be the leader of that effort, and our locker room is going to be a better place for it.