D.C. United's proposed blockbuster trade with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars remained in limbo last night after United captain Marco Etcheverry declined the latest contract offer from Major League Soccer.

The Bolivian midfielder met with team officials at club headquarters in Chantilly yesterday morning and stayed in contact throughout the day. The sides are scheduled to meet again today.

"We are expecting closure [today]," United spokesman Doug Hicks said.

Etcheverry is not one of the trade subjects, but his indecision is impacting the potential deal. United is planning to send all-time leading scorer Jaime Moreno, two-time World Cup defender Eddie Pope and veteran midfielder Richie Williams to the MetroStars for defender Mike Petke, a first-round draft choice and rights to a major player allocation.

If Etcheverry doesn't re-sign and decides to pursue other opportunities -- he says he has an offer from a club in the United Arab Emirates -- sources say United officials would re-assess the MetroStars trade.

Yesterday morning, after his meeting with United officials, Etcheverry said: "I've lost a lot of money [on contracts] and I have to consider everything. I think D.C. United will talk to the league. . . . I want to play here, but we have to make a fair deal."

Etcheverry declined to discuss specifics of the offer, other than to say he has been asked to take a pay cut for the second consecutive year.

It's unclear whether MLS -- which oversees player contracts and negotiations from its New York headquarters -- made a stronger offer or gave Etcheverry an ultimatum later in the day.

Etcheverry didn't return a message seeking further comment last night.

Etcheverry, 32, earns an estimated $500,000 annually, but his lack of production in recent seasons has diminished his value.

United Coach Ray Hudson had said last week that he was under the impression, after speaking with Etcheverry's agent, Ruben Morales, that Etcheverry had agreed to terms and only a few minor details needed to be worked out.

Hudson has been scouting in Europe and will return today.

United technical director Dave Kasper, who met with Etcheverry in the morning, did not want to comment at this time.

United also appears to be working on a deal with Chicago, but it probably wouldn't be executed until the United-MetroStars trade was finalized.

The Post reported last month D.C. officials were interested in forward-midfielder Dema Kovalenko, 25, and former Bulgarian World Cup forward Hristo Stoitchkov, 36.

Stoitchkov, a star at the 1994 World Cup in the United States, reportedly is interested in coaching, and he could become a player/assistant coach with United, which has an opening for an assistant following Curt Onalfo's departure this fall.

Chicago is desperate to make a trade in order to get under the $1.7 million salary cap by the Jan. 3 deadline and probably would be happy to receive draft picks and a secondary player in return.

U.S. to Play Japan

The U.S. men's national team will play World Cup co-host Japan in a friendly in Seattle on March 29, organizers announced yesterday.

The Americans open their 2003 schedule on Jan. 18 against Canada in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., then play Argentina in Miami on Feb. 8, and travel to Jamaica for a Feb. 12 match.

The game against Japan will be the first international soccer match at Seahawks Stadium. Earlier this year, the Americans beat Honduras, 4-0, at Safeco Field.

The U.S. squad has played just one international game since a 1-0 loss to Germany in the World Cup quarterfinals, beating El Salvador, 2-0, on Nov. 17 at RFK Stadium.

The Americans will open training camp Jan. 4 in Bradenton, Fla.