An investment banking firm in New York is in the final stages of purchasing D.C. United's operating rights, sources close to the situation said over the weekend. Barring last-minute complications, a deal for between $25 million and $30 million will be completed by the end of this month.
According to one source, the unidentified company has begun examining the possibility of building a medium-sized stadium for the team. However, United is expected to remain at RFK Stadium for several more seasons until a project is finished. Its lease at the city-operated facility expires this year, but negotiations for a new five-year agreement are expected to resume when the club's sale is completed.
United President and General Manager Kevin Payne said Saturday he had no comment on the negotiations.
Under MLS's single-entity structure, investors buy a financial stake in the four-year-old league, not just the individual clubs they operate. United has been run by Washington Soccer L.P., whose primary backer is Soros Fund Management, an investment firm owned by international financier George Soros. The group put the club's operating rights on the market last winter.
As United's off-field business continues, the team began its quest for a fourth consecutive Eastern Conference title Saturday night at RFK with a 2-0 victory over the Miami Fusion in the opener of their best-of-three first-round series.
United can wrap things up Sunday at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. A Fusion victory would force a decisive third game Oct. 27 in Washington.
Following a late-season slump, United played with renewed purpose Saturday and rediscovered the elegance and efficiency that led to an MLS-best 23-9 record in the regular season.
"We showed our playoff intensity and how we really get up for these games," goalkeeper Tom Presthus said. "That's the most important thing for us. The last 32 games we played before this mean absolutely nothing. [Miami] thought they were going to have a pretty easy time with us, or an easier time with us, and I think we showed them we're still champion and we are going to prove that to everybody else."
United was without all-star defender Carlos Llamosa, who likely will miss at least another week because of a sprained knee ligament, but Carey Talley proved an able replacement. Talley teamed well with veteran Eddie Pope in central defense, stopped a probable goal with a timely clear at the six-yard box and set up Jaime Moreno's second goal in the 88th minute following a graceful dash into Miami's end.
The star of the night, however, was Moreno, who has been United's most consistently effective player this year. Not only did he score both goals (and hit the crossbar and post on two other tries), Moreno showed an explosive first step and beat defenders on the run to create scoring opportunities.
Coupled with captain Marco Etcheverry's precise passing, United's attack looked as good as it had all season. At the other end, Talley, Pope and Jeff Agoos countered Miami's dangerous three-forward lineup of Eric Wynalda, Henry Gutierrez and Welton.
"We felt good about the fact that we were very focused defensively," said Coach Thomas Rongen, whose team had allowed 10 goals in its previous four games. "We didn't give up a lot, so as long as we kept it zero [for Miami] I really felt we could have won this game even without Jaime's second goal."