The sale of D.C. United's operating rights to a group led by a New York investment banking firm is in the final stages and could be completed this weekend, Major League Soccer sources said today.
If a deal is reached, the league hopes to make a formal announcement prior to Sunday's championship game between United and the Los Angeles Galaxy at Foxboro Stadium.
EM Warburg, Pincus and Co., an internationally recognized company based in Manhattan, is believed to be leading a group that may include Washington Capitals minority partner Jonathan Ledecky.
Asked if negotiations were nearing an end, United President and General Manager Kevin Payne said: "It's an ongoing process. We've made progress, but I'm not going to categorize it any other way."
United's operating rights were put on the market about a year ago by Washington Soccer L.P., which is led by an investment company owned by international financier George Soros. The asking price is between $25 million and $30 million.
Under MLS's single-entity structure, all 12 teams are owned by the league. Investors have a stake in the league and are given the operating rights to individual clubs.
The impending sale is not expected to disrupt United's daily operations, and sources close to the team reiterated that Payne would remain in charge of the front office and Thomas Rongen would stay as coach.
As United's off-field work continued, the team held its final serious practice session this morning at Harvard University. Rongen confirmed that Carey Talley would start at right back, even though veteran Diego Sonora has been cleared to play after missing a game with a calf injury.
"We considered a lot of things," Rongen said, "but most of all, we based [the decision] on Carey's last performance. On this small field [four yards narrower and six shorter than RFK Stadium], we may need a more physical presence and someone who is strong in the air. Diego has been a great pro and had a great year for us, no doubt about it. It was the hardest decision I've had to make throughout this year. He wanted to play, and he's disappointed, but he'll be ready if we need him."
Talley did not play well as a central defender two weeks ago in Game 2 at Columbus, but was outstanding in last weekend's 4-0 series-clinching victory at RFK Stadium.
"I thought I played well last week and I'm happy that Thomas is giving me another chance out there," Talley said.
This will be Sonora's final game for United. His contract expires after the match, and he said he isn't happy about the league's latest offer. If Sonora does sign, Payne said United will have to trade him because the club will be over the salary cap for the third consecutive season. Miami Coach Ivo Wortmann has expressed interest in acquiring Sonora.
As for his team's readiness for Sunday's game, Rongen said: "We're pretty loose and happy. This team is experienced in these situations and they want very badly to win the championship back."
Both teams will hold light practice sessions at Foxboro Stadium Saturday afternoon before attending a formal awards dinner in downtown Boston. At that time, the all-league team will be announced.