D.C. United defender Eddie Pope, who has missed five games with a broken foot, returned to practice yesterday and may be available Saturday night against the Columbus Crew at RFK Stadium.

"It's very encouraging, but we'll see how he feels in the morning and how he responds" today in practice, Coach Thomas Rongen said.

Pope is listed as doubtful, but if he's ready by Saturday afternoon, "we might have some alternatives" for the starting lineup, Rongen said.

However, Pope's central defensive partner, Carlos Llamosa, might miss his second straight game because of a sprained left knee and ankle. Llamosa participated in only a portion of yesterday's practice at United Park.

Meanwhile, United seems to be content with former University of Maryland standout Russell Payne as its backup goalkeeper. The club had considered several other candidates to replace reserve Mark Simpson, who's out for another month with a back injury, but "we're going to stay with Russell," Rongen said. "We always look to improve our team, but it's Russell's job to lose."

Payne has not been needed to step in for starter Tom Presthus since joining the club last month.

John Set for Crew

Columbus forward Stern John, MLS's leading scorer last year, is scheduled to rejoin the Crew in Washington tonight after playing for the Trinidad and Tobago national team in the Copa Caribe last night. The Crew had been concerned John and teammate Ansil Elcock would miss Saturday's MLS game because of the tournament, but they were granted permission to skip Saturday's Copa Caribe game in Trinidad against Grenada. If Trinidad and Tobago advances to the June 13 tournament final, the pair would miss the rematch against United the same day at Columbus. . . .

FIFA, soccer's world governing body, will announce Monday the host for the inaugural world club championship in January. The United States, Mexico, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Tahiti and the Saudi Arabia have expressed interest in staging the eight-team tournament, and Brazil is considered the favorite.

Each of FIFA's six regional confederations will be represented, along with a club from the host country and the winner of next winter's Intercontinental Cup between Manchester United and Deportivo Cali (Colombia) or Palmeiras (Brazil).

D.C. United could advance by winning the CONCACAF Champions' Cup this fall, but U.S. soccer officials are worried a Mexican club would get the bid regardless of the tournament results because of the potentially lucrative Mexican television broadcast rights. . . .

United rookie David Hayes scored twice in six minutes to lead the MLS developmental squad to a 2-1 victory over the minor league Orange County Zodiac. Hayes, who has yet to play for United, has three goals in his last four games for the MLS team. . . .

Bruce Arena added Miami Fusion defender Leo Cullen (Maryland) to the U.S. national team's roster for the game against Argentina.

Not only will Argentina star Gabriel Batistuta not play against the U.S. national team June 13 at RFK Stadium, he said he doesn't expect to be selected for Copa America, the prestigious South American championships that begin June 29 in Paraguay.