The United States is the leading candidate to host the 1994 World Cup soccer finals, a source close to the decision-making process said this week.

"Nothing official has been decided, but, as it looks right now, {the} U.S. is in the pole position," the source said.

The United States, Brazil, Chile and Morocco are expected to submit formal bids to the Zurich headquarters of FIFA, world soccer's governing body, by the Sept. 30 deadline. FIFA then will evaluate the bids and announce a decision on June 30, 1988.

The U.S. Soccer Federation only recently announced the formation of World Cup USA 1994, a subsidiary responsible for submitting the U.S. bid. However, the source said USSF officials previously had "several informal contacts with FIFA" and that FIFA officials believe the United States is "preparing {its bid} very well" and United States has "the most advanced project so far."

"It looks quite professional so far," the source said. "It looks much better than the last time."

In 1983, the United States made a bid for the 1990 World Cup. Plagued throughout by organizational problems, the U.S. bid was rejected in favor of Italy. This time, under the leadership of USSF President Werner Fricker, the Americans have mounted a considerably better-conceived effort.

Once formed, World Cup USA 1994 almost immediately retained the services of Eddie Mahe Jr. and Associates, Inc., a Washington-based political campaign consulting firm. The firm, in turn, lined up experts ranging from Scott LeTellier, a California attorney who was among the original advisers to Peter Ueberroth when Ueberroth was 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee chairman, to George Toma, groundskeeper for the Harry S Truman Sports Complex in Kansas City, Mo., who is considered among the best in the world at his trade.

Fricker has been working to gain corporate financial backing for the bid, which is expected to cost between $1.5 million and $2 million. He has signed agreements with Coca-Cola USA, the Gillette Co. and Union Pacific Corp., and he said earlier this week that he has oral agreements with at least three other firms. Between 20 and 40 companies are expected to be included at some point in the bidding process, Fricker said.

"We wish to get not only the soccer community, but the comunity as a whole involved," Fricker said.