Since the North American Soccer league season opened five weeks ago, the Washington Diplomats have waited patiently for several newly acquired English players to arrive and provide boost.
Apparently the wait is over, Mike Lester, Jim Redfern, Don McAllister, Jim Steel, Kenny Hill, Tony Macken and Bobby Stokes have joined Dips and the team suddenly has begun to resemble a playoff contender. Another player, Alan Green, the last to be recruited during the offseason by Washington coach Dennis Viollet, arrived Thursday.
"That was it," said Viollet. "No more players. Right now, I don't have a set formula in my mind on how I'll use them. But whoever plays has to go out and score goals."
After stumbling to only one victory in its first four games, Washington, led by its new English brigade and several other players obtained in trades, bounced back to win its next two contests. However, the Dips (3-3) are still last in the four-team Eastern Division with 26 points, seven behind third-place Ft. Lauderdale and 25 behind division-leading Tampa Bay.
The Dips can pick up ground in a hurry. In the next eight days, they play three games on the road beginning with Northern Division-leader St. Louis (3-4) tonight at 8:30.
Washington then travels to San Jose (4-3) Monday night. That game will be televised on WTTG-TV-5 at 11 p.m. Washington finishes up its road trip in Rochester (2-3) next Sunday night.
Viollet has no fear about playing so many games in such a short period.
"It's good to play the games quickly. It'll help the players learn one another that much faster," said Viollet, now in his fourth year at the Dips' helm. "We had begun to feel a bit frustrated earlier. We were playing well but we weren't finishing things off. Now we are."
Washington looked strong in topping Chicago, 2-1, on the road and Seattle, 3-2, in overtime last week. The second-largest crowd in Washington soccer history (17,736) watched the Diplomats rally from a 2-0 first half deficit against Seattle.
One of the players who has suddenly given the Dips new life is striker Stokes. The slick, aggressive forward has scored three goals and assisted on another in two games.
"I guess the team has sort of generated around me," said Stokes, who played for Southampton in the English First Division. "They gave me the ball and things just went well. I know we have a lot of good players here and you can't afford to sit back and relax. Someone can replace you and do just as well."