(Sinclair)

Dave Johnson has been the broadcast voice of D.C. United since the inaugural 1996 season. “It’s in the net,” his signature call, has been around since before some MLS players were born. Actually, the Maryland native goes back even further with United: He was emceeing team events before the fledgling organization had a name.

So it comes as no great surprise that, despite a radical change in local TV coverage, Johnson seems almost certain to return for a 21st season.

It remains unclear, however, with whom he will be working.

The club told the Insider that Johnson is the team’s preference for play-by-play duty and, without going into detail, said it is also close to hiring an analyst.

“I’ve been connected to this club since day one and expect to be back for the 21st season,” said Johnson, who is also the radio play-by-play voice of the NBA’s Washington Wizards and a longtime sports anchor on the city’s top-rated radio station, WTOP. “D.C. United has been a big part of my life’s journey and the fans are more like family, and I mean that in all sincerity.”

After 19 of 20 seasons on Comcast SportsNet (and its predecessor, Home Team Sports), United entered into agreement in December with Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns ABC7 and NewsChannel 8. All United matches that are not part of MLS’s national TV programming will appear on one of those two local outlets.

At the moment, United’s schedule shows five games on ABC7 and nine on NewsChannel 8, which does not have Comcast SportsNet’s regional reach. (Ten matches remain unassigned.) Sinclair would need permission from MLS to carry matches on stations it owns in regional markets, such as Baltimore, Richmond and Norfolk. The club has yet to announce plans for such coverage.

Although it retained the right to select the announcers, United has been weighing options and balancing budgetary issues.

While a deal with Johnson is in the works, United is apparently preparing to hire a new color commentator. Santino Quaranta, a popular former player from Baltimore, filled the role the past two seasons. Despite a lack of broadcast experience, he made considerable strides and forged a colorful chemistry with Johnson.

The club would not comment on the status of that search, aside from saying it was close to making a decision.

Quaranta, who co-founded Pipeline Soccer Club in Baltimore, said he did not want to comment.

Over the years, Johnson has worked with John Harkes, Thomas Rongen, Garth Lagerwey, Clint Peay and the late Gordon Bradley. University of Maryland Coach Sasho Cirovski and former Georgetown coach Keith Tabatznik have filled in at times.