The Washington Dips, nee Diplomats, have more than a new name going for them this year. They're going Big Time with a professional front-office staff and a real, honest-to-goodness staduim to play soccer in.
After being burrowed away in offices in suburban business buildings the last three years, and playing on a lumpy high school field last year, the Dips have moved headquarters and games to RFK Staduim, where they played intermittently two years ago.
It is all a part of the showcase approach of general manager John Carbray, the promotional wizard of the North American Soccer League, who came to the Dips from San Jose Earthquakes.
"Whatever city you're in, you've got to play in the best facility available to be truly in the major leagues," Carbray said. "It's very hard to project the image of a major league team if people ask you where you play and you say at a high school."
But it is more than just images and promotions that occupy Carbray's time. He and assistant coach-player Alan Spavin have been back and forth on the telephone with coach Dennis Viollet, who has been in England since early January recruiting players.
Four of last year's players - Paul Cannell, Tony Mackin, Tom McConville and Derek Jefferson - are unlikely returners this year since the British team they play for during the NASL's offseason, have extended their season until late May.
The regular NASL season runs from April 10 to Aug. 6 this year and the first exhibition games are at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday at Wilde Lake High in Columbia and on Sunday at City Season in Richmond. Late this season, WTOP radio will broadcast 26 home and away games.
Spavin said the Dips cannot afford to wait for the four British players to join them later in the season since the early games are just as crucial to playoff chances and the team must set up its style of play with the athletes early on.
Predicting the team will be a competitive one, Spavin said Viollet is more concerned with recruiting players who will produce their best efforts rather than some superstars who think playing on an American team would be a profitable vacation.
While the team still awaits the fruits of Viollet's recruiting, the Dips do know that at least seven Americans will be on the team and one of them always in the starting lineup. NASL rules require that six Americans and/or Canadians be on each club, with one of them in the starting lineup.
The NASL is slated to vote on Friday whether to approve an indoor season which would lead to employing the players on a year-round basis and avoid predicaments such as this year's overlapping British and American seasons.
"As an American, I don't like the loan situation," Carbray said. "I think the NASL is at the point where the owners are going to have to go to full ownership of players."
The Dips have already started on that road by hiring John Kerr, Eric Martin, Gary Derrell and Peter Silvester on a fulltime basis for community relations purposes.