A minority owner of the Washington Diplomats' North American Soccer League franchise said yesterday he hopes to persuade Diplomats General Manager Duncan Hill to move the club back to Detroit.

The minority owner, Sonny Van Arnum, also is owner of an American Soccer League franchise in Detroit. He is in Washington and will try to convince Hill, whose father Jimmy is the majority owner, that the finacially ailing Diplomats could survive in Detroit.

The Diplomats played previously in Detroit as the Express. But after losing at least $1 million last season in Detroit, Jimmy and Duncan Hill moved the club here in February. They felt the Washington area would be a better soccer market and that investors could be found to help make the team financially stable.

After losing more than $1 million so far this season and finding no investors, the Hills now hope to sell the team in the next two weeks. But no area people have made outstanding offers, according to Duncan Hill.

Van Arnum had filed a lawsuit against the Hills earlier this year over money he felt the Hills owed him, but the two parties settled the matter out of court. Van Arnum said he is willing to forget his differences with the Hills because "moving the club back to Detroit would make sense for all of us."

The Hills owe the Pontiac Silverdome (where the Express played their home games) $150,000 and have been sued for $100,000 by one Detroit businessman, an original partner in the franchise.

Willi DeWald, another minority owner and the club's travel agent, says the Hills also owe him money. Van Arnum said under his plan, which does not yet have the total support of the minority owners, any previous debts would be dropped if the team returned to Detroit.

"We would move my ASL franchise to Cincinnati," Van Arnum said. "I know the team can be supported back in Detroit. At this point, there's no real buyer for the Diplomats, so I came here to meet with Duncan, hopefully by tomorrow. We didn't have a great relationship in Detroit, but I hope that doesn't stand in the way of fully exploring this possibility."

Duncan Hill, reached at the mandatory two-day league meeting in Chicago, said he had not talked to Van Arnum and didn't know what to think of his proposal. Hill said he will meet Wednesday with a local group interested in buying the team.

Hill said the 21 owners or their representatives at the league meetings "had a long philosophical debate on where the league should be headed. We just did a bit of soul-searching, with each owner getting to talk.

"There probably won't be anything definitive or any votes taken until Tuesday," Hill continued.

One of the major issues to be discussed during this session is how many of the league's financially troubled teams will be terminated before next season. League sources have acknowledged this summer that perhaps as many as seven or eight teams could fold.

Hill disagreed, saying, "Only two or three, at the maximum, are likely to fold." But several of the other teams may be merged with stronger franchises