Minutes after his team had been eliminated in the opening round of the North American Soccer League playoffs by the New York Cosmos, Washington Diplomat coach Dennis Violet was the first to point out his club needed defensive help and more speed.
But it was not so much the playoff loss that prompted Viollet to do a bit of housecleaning as it was the Dips' defensive collapse at the end of the season - eight losses in the final 10 games of a 14-10 season - and the unexpected loss of four starters.
Because of the extension of the English soccer league into the summer months, loan players Tony Macken, Derek Jefferson, Tom McConville and Paul Cannell may not rejoin the team this season. To replace them, Viollet picked up several draftees and free agents on a recent recruiting trip to his native England.
"I'm quite happy with what I have now," said Viollet. "I'm not giving up on signing Macken and Cannell, but we've got the speed and defensive help we needed. We still have a couple of spots open, though. We're a lot younger this year but we have experience at key spots."
The league the Dips play in has changed too.
The 18-team North American Soccer League has realigned the conferences this year and Washington is in the toughest division (Eastern) with the Cosmos (the club has dropped New York from its title), Tampa Bay Rowdies, the 1975 league winners, and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers (formerly the Miami Toros). Washington will meet each member in its division and the Northern Division twice and each member of the Pacific Conference once (except for San Jose, which they play twice) for a total of 26 games.
The top three teams in each of the four divisions will partcipate in the playoffs. The NASL title game will be played in Portland Aug.28.
The league also has instituted an innovative rule change, designed to create a more wide-open game.
If a game is tied after 90 minutes, a 15-minute sudden-death period is played. If no one scores, the game is then decided by a one-on-one shootout in which each team in turn is given five opportunities to score from the 35-yard line.
In the old method, each player lined up at the penalty spot (12 yards out) and *attempted to kick the ball past the goalie. Now, the ball is placed at the 35-yard line and the player has five seconds to dribble and score.
"The owners thought this new tie-breaker method would create more excitement for the fans," said league commissioner Phil Woosnam. "They thought it would also be more fair."
Statistics reveal the old method produced a goal on about 85 per cent of the attempts while the new style has shown only a 40 per cent success rate during the exhibition season.
"As far as the league is concerned, it is stronger than ever," said Woosnam. "We've relocated in bigger stadiums in several cities, Washington being one and it seems the league finally is being totally accepted by everyone. We know soccer in the United States is on its way to the success that football has enjoyed so long."
The NASL averaged just over 10,000 persons per game last year but Woosnam is optimistic it can average between 12,000 and 15,000 this season.
Washington was announced a season ticket advance sale of more than 2,000.
The one key position the Dips need not be concerned about is the goalkeeper. Eric (Gold-finger) Martin is extremely quick. The 6-foot, 185-pound Scot was one of the league's top goalies before the Dips' defense went on strike. He finished 12th in goals allowed (1.52) per game.
"Except for Eric, all the other spots are open," said Violet. "Everyone has to open their place."
That being the case, competition for starting berths should be keen, especially at forward.
Holdovers Leroy DeLeon, the club's all-time scorer, and flashy but seldom-used Stojan Trickovic will be challenged by Peter Silvester, obtained in a trade from las Vegas; Sonny Askew, a free agent, and English recruits Mike Lester and Jim Redfern. Silvester, a talented striker from England who played for the now defunct Baltimore Comets before migrating to Las Vegas (formerly the San Diego jaws), is an excellent shooter and team player.
According to Viollet, both Askew and DeLeon, a master at one-on-one tactics, have been impressive during the exhibition season. Askew, an American citizen, has a fine chance to become a starter since a NASL rule states each team must have at least six U. S. players on its roster at least one starting.
Trickovic is somewhat inconsistent while both Redfern and Lester are said to be very quick and good goal scorers.
The midfield was another problem a year ago. Viollet acquired John Borozzi, a free agent, and tough Randy Garber, purchased from Los Angeles. The mainstay of last year's midfield, Macken, may not return but Gary Darell, the fastest player on the team, is talented and reliable.
John Kerr played injured most of the last compaign, Roy Willner played sparingly and Alan Spavin, at 34 and a step slower, may be forced to limit his experience and know-how to his duties as assistant coach.
The defense will have an entire new look. Only one player on last year's roster, reserve Don Reiter, is included on the present roster. Gene Mishalow, the No. 1 draft pick this season, Tom Galati, obtained in a trade with Philadelphia, and English signees Ken Hill and Graham Oakey will vie with Reiter for the four starting berths.
Viollet also said two more English players are expected to be signed next week and he is still considering trades.
"I think we have improved as much or more than any of the league powers," said Viollet. "What's more important, we've improved in the critical areas."
Washington plays its final pre-season contest today againsst the las Vegas Quicksilvers at RFK at 2.30.
Next Sunday at RFK, the Dips open the regular season against the defending NASL champion Toronto Metros.