If D.C. United defender Diego Sonora agrees to a new contract with Major League Soccer in the next few weeks, he then would be traded because the club would be unable to stay under the salary cap, President and General Manager Kevin Payne said yesterday.

Payne said he has been approached by several teams interested in acquiring Sonora, a 30-year-old Argentine who started at right back most of this season after being acquired in a complicated three-team trade last January. His contract expires after Sunday's championship game between United and the Los Angeles Galaxy in Foxboro, Mass., and although he has expressed interest in signing with an Argentine, Brazilian or Mexican club, Sonora said he has not ruled out MLS's offer.

Under MLS's single-entity structure, player contracts are owned and primarily negotiated with the league. If Sonora signs, United would retain his rights and then trade him for draft picks, Payne said. Sonora's South American-based agent, Ruben Morales, said Miami is interested in Sonora.

"He's a good player, and I hope he does sign a new contract," Payne said. "We can't afford to lose players like him, and I think the league has offered him a very fair deal."

This would be the third consecutive year that United has had to trade a high-profile player to stay under the salary cap. After the 1997 season, the club dealt leading scorer Raul Diaz Arce to the New England Revolution for three draft picks, and the following offseason, veteran midfielder John Harkes was sent to New England for draft picks.

United didn't have to worry about Sonora's contract pushing it over the salary cap this season because most of his estimated $140,000 salary was applied toward San Jose's payroll--an agreement that was part of the trade that also included New York/New Jersey. Next year his entire salary would be on United's books.

The salary cap was $1.635 million this year and probably will increase only slightly next season.

As for whether he will re-sign with MLS, Sonora said: "I don't know. We will see what happens."

Sonora claims that MLS's latest offer cuts his salary by 40 percent. MLS officials would not comment on negotiations, but Payne said that the league has offered Sonora "a very fair deal. It's essentially the same deal he has now. It's structured slightly differently, but it's essentially the same money."

In an unrelated matter, Sonora said he has been told by the coaching staff that he will not start Sunday against the Galaxy. That would open a spot for Carey Talley, who played well in Sonora's absence in last weekend's series-clinching victory over Columbus. Sonora sat out with a calf injury, but has practiced this week and is nearly at full strength.

Coach Thomas Rongen said yesterday afternoon that he wouldn't announce his starting lineup until after a team meeting last night.

United Notes: Morales said he expects to renegotiate the contract of another United player, captain Marco Etcheverry, after the season. Etcheverry, who has two years left on his current deal, makes the league-maximum $250,000 a year, but wants to receive more through promotions and endorsements tied to his contract.