After their first three home games of the 1976 North American Soccer League season, the Washington Deplomats had attracted 18,974 fans to the 9,000-seat stadium at WT. Woodson High School in Fairfax, average of 6,324.
This season, the Dips moved to the 55,000-seat RFK Stadium. Despite their spacious new home, Washington has drawn only 14,472 persons for its first two home contests, an average of 7,236.
Unless history fails to repeat itself, the Dips (1-1) will be looking at some 45,000 empty seats today when they host the colorful Tampa Bay rowdies (1-1) in an Eastern Division match at RFK at 2:30 p.m.
Playing before a relatively empty stadium is nothing new to the newest Washington sports franchise. In 1974 the Dips averaged 4,974 in 10 home games at RFK. The following season, Washington split 11 games between RFK and Woodson while averaging 8,847 per game. A throng of 35,620 for the Cosmos game and Pele helped that raise average immensely.
Last year Washington played exclusively at Woodson and averaged 5,962 for 12 games. The only sell-out was the Cosmos contest, which drew an estimated 11,000.
The sparse crowds thus far have yet to discourage club president Steve Danzansky or first-year general manager John Carbray.
"We are improved over last year. We're grateful for what success we've had," said Dazansky. "In time, I'm confident the attendance will get better."
Carbray attributed the lack of fan support to several things.
"We've had to compete with NBA TV games and we've played three clubs (counting an exhibition with Las Vegas that drew 8,557) that are not necessarily big-name attractions," said Carbray. "The fact we didn't play well either didn't excite anyone and bring them storming back. We only played two games and I'm satisfied with the attendance thus far."
While the front office is wrestling with that problem. Washington coach Dennis Viollet has his own worry - the Rowdies.
One of the top clubs in the NASL, the offensively potent visitors won the title in 1975 and advanced to the playoff semifinals last season before losing to eventual champion Toronto, 2-0.
A year ago Tampa Bay, with its "Murderers' Row," finished second in the league in scoring with 58 goals. Clyde Best and Stewart Scullion were traded away but Rodney Marsh and Derek Smethurst (45 points last season) are still around. The remaining half of the Row has teamed with recently acquired Steve Wegerle and Adrian Alston.
The Dips have fared well in their matches with Tampa Bay, having won three of the five games played. Washington's defense looked sound last week in blanking Connectient, 3-0, but defender Alex Pringle (bruised back) is listed as doubtful and goalkeeper Eric Martin (strained back) is probable.
Viollet worked his club hard on effense last week in practice. "That's all we worked on. Otherwise we didn't do anything specific," said Viollet. "I don't worry so much about other teams."
Viollet's worries may be eased some if Smethurst (hamstring) and tough Tampa Bay defender Arsene Auguste (ankle) do not play.
Washington striker Peter Sylvester knocked in two goals last week and it appears that he, along with Jimmy Redfern. Leroy DeLeon, Gary Darrell and either Mike Lester or Sonny Askew, are finally jelling as an offensive unit.