In anticipation of being forced out when D.C. United's operating rights are sold, some of the club's minority investors have joined local businessmen in an effort to bring a minor league soccer team to Montgomery County.
Rockville entrepreneur Neil Tyra, a United investor, said the group wants to purchase a team in the A-League, U.S. professional soccer's equivalent to Class AAA baseball. It's unclear whether it would buy an expansion team or move an existing club in the 30-team league.
Tyra estimates the cost at between $500,000 and $2 million for a team, which would begin play in 2001 and be based at the new SoccerPlex in South Germantown. Most of the 26 fields, including a 3,200-seat stadium, in the $19.8 million complex will be ready in about a year.
"It's certainly one way we can stay involved in the game," Tyra said. "There's a long way to go, but we hope we can make it happen."
The group has been in contact with A-League officials and representatives for Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, Tyra said.
However, Trisha Heffelfinger, the acting executive director of the Maryland Soccer Foundation, which is overseeing the fund-raising for the soccer complex, said "we have not been contacted. . . . At this stage, we'd have to say no because it's for the youth soccer players of Montgomery County. Beyond that, there are no other plans right now."
United's operating rights, owned by Washington Soccer L.P., have been for sale for nearly a year for an estimated $25 million to $30 million. Although no deal is imminent--sources say it may be another three months before a deal is made--some low-level investors such as Tyra aren't expected to keep ties to the Major League Soccer club when an agreement is reached.
Under MLS's single-entity structure, teams are operated by individual investment groups that have a stake in the league as a whole. United's primary backers are Soros Fund Management, a company owned by billionaire financier George Soros that had planned only a short-term investment in the league; and Octagon, an international sports marketing agency based in London.
As for the possible A-League team in the area, "It seems every county in the Washington area has a minor league team of one kind or another, except Montgomery," Tyra said. "A soccer team would fit a nice niche for the county. It's a great soccer area and I think it would support a team."
Other regional A-League teams include the Maryland Mania, Richmond Kickers, and Hampton Roads Mariners.
Meantime, United will try to extend its club-record winning streak to 11 games tonight against Western Conference leader Los Angeles at the Rose Bowl. An already tough road game will be more difficult to win because Coach Thomas Rongen plans to rest several starters, including MLS assists leader Marco Etcheverry.
This is D.C.'s final league game before the start of the CONCACAF Champions Cup next week in Las Vegas.
"We just hate to lose, and whomever is on the field will put us in a position to win the game," Rongen said. "We've clinched [a playoff berth] and we have home-field advantage [throughout the playoffs], but there's still a lot to play for. We don't want to give L.A. an edge if we see them again in the finals. But if we do lose, it's not the end of the world."
Rongen plans to give a more prominent role to rookie midfielder Jason Moore, who has played only 21 minutes in the last month. Midfielder Geoff Aunger, defender Carey Talley and forward A.J. Wood also expect to receive a lot of playing time, and reserve goalkeeper Mark Simpson may replace Tom Presthus in the second half.
United has won six straight on the road and has an MLS-best 12-3 away record.
The game is vital for the Galaxy, which holds a two-point lead over Colorado in the conference standings. In the first meeting this year, Los Angeles defeated United, 2-1, on a controversial last-minute goal by midfielder Mauricio Cienfuegos at RFK Stadium.
Game: vs. Los Angeles Galaxy.
Where: Rose Bowl.
When: 10:30 p.m.
TV: NewsChannel 8.
Radio: WACA-1540 (Spanish).
Records: United 22-7, 54 points; Galaxy 18-10, 48 points.
D.C. Probable Starters: GK -- Tom Presthus; D -- Diego Sonora, Carlos Llamosa, Eddie Pope, Jeff Agoos; MF -- Geoff Aunger, John Maessner, Jason Moore, Chris Albright; F -- A.J. Wood (7 goals, 4 assists), Roy Lassiter (17, 11).
Galaxy Top Players: MF Mauricio Cienfuegos (3 goals, 15 assists), MF Cobi Jones (6, 8), F Carlos Hermosillo, GK Kevin Hartman, D Robin Fraser.