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Niell Close To Joining D.C. United

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

D.C. United is in the late stages of negotiations to acquire Argentine forward Franco Niell, sources familiar with the talks said yesterday.

A month after Argentine superstar Juan Sebasti¿n Ver¿n spurned its offer, United is close to adding a lesser-known attacking player in the first of what could be several international signings.

Niell, 24, has spent his entire career with Argentinos Juniors, a first division club from Buenos Aires renowned for developing young talent, and been on the team's senior roster since 2004. He has 10 career goals in 60 league appearances.

Despite being 5 feet 4 and about 145 pounds, Niell has a reputation for clever footwork and darting moves. He would join a United attacking corps that includes Luciano Emilio, the MLS scoring champion in 2007. Team captain Jaime Moreno, the league's all-time leader in goals, and 2006 MLS MVP Christian G¿mez, an Argentine midfielder, remain in contract negotiations with United.

The pursuit of Niell stemmed in part from the club becoming too reliant on Emilio (20 goals) and G¿mez for scoring and Moreno's diminishing influence after 12 seasons.

Club officials declined to comment on the possible signing. However, one source said United would likely acquire him on loan from Juniors with the option to buy his contract next winter.

United has looked to Argentina for players with increasing regularity, and coaches and front-office personnel have made several scouting trips there each year. Their interest in second-division defender Gonzalo Peralta cooled last week, but they remain in contact with Argentine player agencies.

United will open training camp late this month.

-- Steven Goff

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