The sale of D.C. United's operating rights for an estimated $25 million to $30 million is imminent, sources close to the negotiations said yesterday. Details were not revealed, but the primary new investor is not from the Washington area and does not have other ties to professional sports, one source said.

"There's a very, very credible buyer at a very respectable price," one high-ranking league official said. "It's good for the league and good for the club."

Two sources said that under the deal, United President and General Manager Kevin Payne would remain in charge of United's daily operations at its Northern Virginia headquarters and Coach Thomas Rongen, who recently had a two-year option of his contract exercised through the 2001 season, would keep his job.

The club's operating rights were put on the market early this year by United's main investor, Soros Management Fund, which is owned by international financier George Soros. Most of the team's minority investors, including local businessmen Neil Tyra of Rockville and Mark Cowan of Northern Virginia, are not expected to be part of the new group.

Asked to comment on the possible sale, Payne said: "We're satisfied with the direction things have been headed. We're moving forward, but I wouldn't categorize it any other way."

Tyra said he and other investors are under a gag order and could not comment on the negotiations.

Under Major League Soccer's single-entity structure, all 12 teams are owned by the league. MLS investors have a financial stake in the league and many, such as billionaires John Kluge and Philip Anschutz and NFL owners Lamar Hunt and Robert Kraft, operate individual teams with additional money.

United has been MLS's most successful team on the field, but like almost all of the teams, has lost several million dollars in operating expenses since the league started in 1996. Club officials have attributed some of its losses to its lease deal at RFK Stadium, which provides United with no money from concessions and only $1 of the $8 charged for parking.

That lease expires at the end of this year. No negotiations are taking place, D.C. Sports Commission official Jim Dalrymple said, but talks have centered around a new five-year deal.