ALIVE AND KICKING would be an overstatement, but the Washington Diplomats aren't dead yet. The team's fight for life as a flagship franchise of American professional soccer has gone in to overtime, with an extension until next week to come up with investors. For the sake of the sport in this country and the growing number of players and fans here in the capital city, the North American Soccer League should lead the eleventh-hour charge to save the Diplomats.

This region has proved its support over the years -- both at the gate and throughout the local civic community -- and now needs only the time and help to mount an all-out national search for the requisite number of investors. It is not an impossible campaign, either; already, in the all-too-short initial extension that was granted the Diplomats to find a buyer, local efforts did produce enough interest to provide perhaps 60 percent of the necessary financing. If this much could be generated this fast in this regional effort, who knows what an organized, major-league search and presentation could produce?

No one is pretending for a minute that any soccer franchise is a get-rich-quick investment. But the potential for growth of the sport in the coming years, both nationally and in this strong local market, is not without attractions for investors with enough patience and vision to see beyond one or two seasons. For example, even though television -- the great revenue-producer for other sports -- has so far not met league expectations for soccer -- what will the ultimate coming of cable TV and its growing sports market mean to soccer franchises in the years ahead?

Soccer -- and the Diplomats -- deserve a fair chance to survive and flourish.