Bobby Convey's move to Reading in the prestigious English league was nearing completion yesterday, all but ending the D.C. United midfielder's five-year career in MLS.
"It's basically done," a source close to the negotiations said last night. "We're down to the nitty-gritty. I would expect another day or two before it's finished."
Two other sources close to Convey called it a "done deal." League officials have begun considering replacements for him in next week's All-Star Game at RFK Stadium, with teammate Dema Kovalenko a top candidate.
Once the $1.2 million transfer is signed, Convey, 21, will have to acquire a British work permit, a process that derailed his move to Tottenham Hotspur last year. But because he has become a regular for the U.S. national team, the permit is not expected to be a hurdle this time.
Convey, who is recovering from a thigh injury, didn't practice with United yesterday. He won't play in tonight's U.S. Open Cup match against the minor league Richmond Kickers and, barring problems with the transfer, has no plans to play in Saturday's league game at Dallas.
Reading plays in the English First Division, a step below the glamorous Premier League, and has turned to Convey to bolster the left side of its midfield. "It's a terrific move for Bobby because Reading is looking at him as a marquee player to lead them to [promotion to] the Premier League," one source said.
Convey has said repeatedly over the last year that he is eager to play in Europe. His disappointment over the failed Tottenham deal a year ago seemed to affect his play late last season and he has appeared distracted at times this year.
In the spring, French and Dutch clubs expressed interest in him, but nothing substantive developed until the European transfer window opened in May. Tottenham and Reading began talking with his representatives in recent weeks.
Convey, who has three assists in 10 league appearances this year, is due to make $143,000 this season.
With Reading, he would earn around $500,000, one source said, and collect a small percentage of the transfer fee.
On Reading's Web site, Manager Steve Coppell said: "I'm not prepared to discuss any individual until I know the deal has been done. At the start of the summer we had our list of players we wanted, and we've still very much got our eyes on the people we were after at that time."
United officials and Convey's agents said they don't want to comment at this time.
Although United would miss Convey's skills, rookie Josh Gros, a fourth-round pick from Rutgers, has performed well on the left side when Convey has missed games because of injury or national team commitments.
Gros is expected to start again tonight for United, which will likely be without two other midfielders besides Convey. Earnie Stewart (groin injury) and Ben Olsen (quadriceps) missed last Saturday's match against Los Angeles and practiced on the side yesterday.
Richmond has a 10-7-3 record in the A-League, the top minor league under MLS. Its roster includes three former United players -- Richie Williams, David Hayes and Mike Burke -- and 2001 D.C. draft pick Caleb Norkus. The Kickers' top scorers are a pair of ex-Virginia Commonwealth stars: Matthew Delicate (six goals, four assists) and McColm Cephas (four goals, four assists).
"We treat every game very seriously," United Coach Peter Nowak said when asked if he was looking past this game. "We know Richmond is a very good team and we know it's not going to be easy. We want to give everyone a shot to play, but we want to win this game."
The 90-year-old tournament, modeled after England's historic FA Cup and other domestic competitions in tradition-rich countries, is run by the U.S. Soccer Federation and is open to all pro, semipro and amateur teams.