When Gary Darrell, the once prolific scorer of the Washington Diplomats, kicks his first goal of the up-coming North American Soccer League season, it should set off a mini-celebration.
"All I need to do is score one goal and it will be one more than I scored all last year," said the 5-foot-9, 155-pound Bermudian. "I couldn't understand it. At first I had a few personal problems, then I was injured (ankle). I just couldn't make a goal. I just lost my confidence."
Darrell will be looking for his confidence today when Washington meets the Las Vegas Quicksilvers in its final exhibition game at RFK Stadium at 2:30. The following Sunday, the Dips will host the defending NASL champion Toronto Metros in the regular-season opener for both teams at 2:30.
While Washington was enjoying its best season (14-10) in its threey-year history and its first playoff berth, Darrell was suffering through his worst season.
The fastest Diplomat, Darrell somehow was held without a goal in 1.318 minutes last year. Several of his 27 shots were within spitting distance of the net; he was credited with only two assists.
Darrell's disastrous season cost him the team all-time scoring lead he had held the Dips" first two years. Teammate Leroy DeLeon scored 19 points last season to take over the top spot. DeLeon has 18 goals and 11 assists for 49 points during his three years with Washington. Darrell has 18 goals and five assists for 41 points.
Player coach Alan Spavin (22 points) and Roy Willner (four points) are the only other original Diplomats on the roster.
"It was the worst year I've had since I've been here," said the well-like Darrell, who played 1 1/2 years for the now-defunct Montreal Olympiques before joining Washington in 1974. "This year, my frame of mind is a lot different. I'm 100 per cent physically and my confidence has returned."
In the Dips preseason games, Darrell hasn't come close to scoring. But that is because coach Denniss Viollet has been using the versatile speedster at the sweeper back position on defense.
"He (Viollet) is taking a long look at the new players. I can understand that," said Darrell. "I'd much rather play at my normal midfield position because I'm primarily an offensive player. But I'll play where I'm needed. I love the game and I'll be ready for the opener."
Viollet has no doubts that Darrell will resurface as the dynamic flashy performer he was his first two seasons.
"He's a fine player and I know he'll return to form," said Violet, also beginning his fourth season. "He's very highly respected around the league. That's one reason I appointed him club captain."
Darrell, a finesse player, earned many honors while competing for Bermuda in the Olympics, World Cup and Concacafe soccer eliminations. He also led his country to a silver medal in the 1967 Pan-American Games.
Darrell, 30, is confident Washington can reach the playoffs, at least.
"We have some new players coming in and should have a good year," he said. "We don't have any superstars, but if everybody does their job and puts out, we'll do fine."
Darrell has set himself only two goals this season, ovetake DeLeon in points and play every minute of every game.
If he accomplishes either, the Dip may find the road to the playoffs a lot easier.