Willi Lauterbach and Timothy Kissler, local commercial real estate developers who have been bidding to develop new stadium plans for the Washington Nationals and D.C. United, are leading the group that is on the verge of buying the MLS club's operating rights from Colorado billionaire Philip F. Anschutz, sources close to the negotiations said yesterday.

Barring last-minute complications, United and MLS officials are planning to announce the estimated $20 million deal by Aug. 1.

The group also includes United President and CEO Kevin Payne and Washington real estate attorney Kenneth Lore.

Lauterbach, Kissler and Lore have become regulars at United's matches at RFK Stadium, and two of them attended Saturday's game against the New England Revolution.

Several people close to the team and the league have met members of the new group, but none was willing to comment publicly because of the sensitive nature of the negotiations.

One source, who requested anonymity, said Lauterbach "is going to be good for the team and good for the league. He clearly believes in MLS's long-term future."

Payne, who has been overseeing the sale, declined to comment. Lauterbach and Kissler couldn't be reached, and a United spokesman said any prospective buyers wouldn't make themselves available for an interview.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber said he didn't want to comment because it's a "transaction in its final negotiations."

This spring, Global Development Partners, headed by Lauterbach and Kissler, was one of eight groups that entered bids with the city to provide private financing for a baseball stadium for the Nationals. Among other things, their plan would have paid the District $28.7 million for exclusive development rights on land at the stadium site along the Anacostia River in Southeast.

But Natwar M. Gandhi, the city's chief financial officer, declined to certify that deal for several reasons, including concerns that public land would have to be transferred to the group and because the plan increased the amount of debt supported by the District. Vincent Morris, a spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), declined to comment yesterday when asked about Lauterbach and Kissler.

United has been pursuing a plan to build its own stadium as part of a mixed-use development project at Poplar Point in Anacostia, just across the Frederick Douglass Bridge from the proposed Nationals stadium.

Lauterbach, a Northern Virginia resident, and Kissler are also pursuing a mixed-use project for the Richmond Braves, a Class AAA minor league baseball team, in the Shockoe Bottom neighborhood of that city.

Kissler, a Virginia Tech graduate, is a former vice president of Washington-based developer John Akridge Cos. According to an online profile, he was responsible for marketing, financing, budgeting, design and construction of major projects. He managed the development of a $40 million portfolio of senior care facilities as well as commercial office projects totaling $450 million.

Lore, an American University graduate, is a partner in the Georgetown office of Swidler Berlin and specializes in real estate law. Reached this week, Lore said he couldn't comment on the United matter.

Anschutz's company, Anschutz Entertainment Group, has run five of MLS's 12 clubs, including United, since early in 2001, but company officials have stated their intent to concentrate their soccer efforts on fewer teams. AEG is also attempting to sell the rights to the San Jose Earthquakes, but plans to retain control of the Los Angeles Galaxy, Chicago Fire and New York/New Jersey MetroStars.

Under MLS's business structure, investors finance the league and are given the operating rights to specific teams.

AEG agreed to take over United's operations from MLS -- which served as caretaker following the collapse of Washington Soccer L.P., in the fall of 2000 -- until an outside group could be found.

AEG spokesman Michael Roth, in Los Angeles, didn't return a phone message.

Payne was United's president when MLS was formed in 1996, but was hired to oversee AEG's soccer interests when the company took over the team four years ago. He returned to United's front office as president and chief executive officer in early 2004. Under the new operating group, Payne would remain in charge of the club's front office.

United is MLS's most successful team, having won four league championships in nine years (1996-97, '99 and 2004) and often representing MLS in international competitions.

Staff writer David Nakamura contributed to this report.