THE COUNTDOWN IS on: will the Washington Caps hockey team remain in the Washington area? Last month, owner Abe Pollin, who has lost $20 million on the team, set forth four conditions that must be met this week if he is to get four Washington investors to buy 50 percent of the club and keep it here. One has been met: the Capital Centre, which Mr. Pollin built and owns, will reduce its rent. Another is in sight: local businesses have bought enough tickets to make nine of the team's first 10 home games sellouts. But the Caps have still not sold the 7,500 season tickets Mr. Pollin says they need to sell; as of yesterday, they were 2,434 short. And Prince George's County has not yet decided whether to reduce the 10 percent county amusement tax for the Caps.

We're rooting for the Caps. Washington has lost too many sports teams over the years; this town of all towns should understand that major league sports teams can be worth far more to a metropolitan area than they cost. For that reason we hope area businesses and individuals will purchase those 2,434 season tickets. And we trust Prince George's County will reduce the amusement tax for the Caps. This seems to us to be a matter of common sense -- how much will the county get from the Caps if they move elsewhere? -- and of common decency. Local governments throughout the nation have constructed stadiums and arenas for their professional sports teams, and in some cases have seen the teams move away anyway. (The latest example: Al Davis' Raiders, former tenants of Oakland Stadium, who played their first game as the Los Angeles Raiders Saturday.) In contrast, Abe Pollin built the Capital Centre and seeks not to move his team away but to keep it here. He deserves not complaints but more support -- and soon.