LIKE THE MIRACULOUS recoveries of Pauline from her perils, the Washington Diplomats -- when we last left them, you remember, it was for dead -- turn out to be alive and you-know-what. Okay, so it is a remake with a different cast of players; but only the names have been changed to protect the guilty owners of yore, who had the money but not the patience to watch professional soccer bloom in this natural market for the sport. These are genuine Diplomats with portfolios, coming to us live from Detroit, where they were known for the last three years as the Express.

That a red carpet is in order goes without saying because Washington has been good to soccer and vice versa. Last year, attendance at Dips games was double that of the previous year, which had followed several seasons of steady growth before that. As these fans no doubt know, they counted enough to make Washington the fifth attendance market in the North American Soccer League.With more than 120,000 youngsters now playing in organized leagues around the region, in time the crowds should get bigger in more ways than one.

Still, it's a relief to hear that the new Dipmeisters are not assuming that this team will immediately break records at the gate. It's bound to take a while for the town to identify with the Express-turned-local. But it won't be long at all before the fans get their kicks -- training camp begins in a week, the season starts March 28 in Fort Lauderdale and the home opener at RFK Stadium is scheduled for April 11 against the Montreal (if you think "Dips" is an awkward handle, get this) Manic.

In the meantime, soccer buffs and others who believe in Washington as a major-league sports town owe a double-Dip of gratitude to the business and civic leaders who fought so feverishly last year to save the original team. Though they lost that battle, there is no question that their campaign pointed up the importance to the league and to this region of having a franchise in the nation's capital. May it now be permanent.