WASHINGTON (AP) -- D.C. United President and CEO Kevin Payne is leaving the Major League Soccer club after more than 15 years.

United owner Jason Levien praised Payne's "strong acumen as a leader'' in a statement announcing Payne's departure Tuesday.

Payne, United's top executive since the club began play in 1996, said: "For me, D.C. United has been like my child.''

With Payne, United won MLS championships in 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2004.

This season, the club returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1997 and lost to the Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference final.

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