It has been nearly eight months since Alan Spavin led the Washington Diplomats in a victory lap around RFK Stadium following their 2-1, season-ending win over the Cosmos.
Spavin - the player and the coach - is gone. So are most of the players who followed him on that lap.
The Dips start their fifth season this week with a new coach, a new team, a new attitude, and, they hope, different results.
When the Dips make their regular season debut under Coach Gordon Bradley Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, only three men who started that Cosmos game will be in the line-up.
That is one reason why the club has such hopes for 1978.
But 1977 also began with optimism. The Dips had moved from 10,000-seat Woodson High School Statium in Fairfax to 50,000-seat RFK Stadium.They were coming off their best season, 14-10, and a playoff berth, and looked to have the players to improve.
But it all fell apart. Dennis Viollet was fired as coach at midseason and replaced by a reluctant Spavin, his best friend. Dissension was rampant. The team finished last in the Eastern Division with a 10-16 record.
Bradley is certain that won't happen again. He has recruited around the world since being hired in October and has assembled a club consisting of players from 10 different countries, including several players with international reputations.
The biggest difference between 1977 and 1978 should be on the forward line. The Dips played good defense last year but couldn't score - 31 goals in 26 games. That team total was only two more goals than Steve David of Los Angeles scored by himself.
One of the reasons the Dips couldn't score was the absence of Paul Cannell, the team's leading scorer with 13 goals in 1976. Cannell, 25, is back.
Cannell should get help from Ray Graydon, 28, the scoring winger Bradley was looking for.
"There two players are the type we have got to keep in America for the sake of soccer," Bradley said. "They're both great players and interested in promoting the game. I expect a lot of goals from both of them."
Bobby Stokes, one of the three returning starters and last year's second-leading scorer behind Alan Green, will be the third starter up front along with Mike Makic, move up from midfield because of his offensive style. Stokes will be looked too for playmaking.
Newcomers Sakib Viteskic and Carmen Marcantonio wil beat midfield. Roy Willner, perhaps the team's most consistent player in 1977, will be the only American starter, at right defense. Jim Steele, the third starter returning will also play defense along with Mike Dillon purchased from the Cosmos, and Tim O'Hara, a Scottish all-star.
The two heralded South Africans Andries Maseko and Kenneth Mokgojoa signed last month, will start the season on the bench. Bradley is sold on their natural talent but said it will make them time to adjust to the more disciplined style of play in the NASL.
"We can afford to wait on them a bit since they're yong (23 and 24), he said."Their talents are unquestionable. They just have to learn how to play the game over here."
Learning to play together will be one problem all the Dips will have to deal with. Although there appears to be much talent assembled, the players barely know one another - personally or professionally. The team should improve as the season progresses.
The Dips are in the National Conference East under the league's new aligment, along with The Cosmos, Toronto and Rochester. Realistically, the club doesn't look ready to challenge the omnipotent Yankees of soccer, The Cosmos, but should be able to finish a strong second and make a run in the playoffs if everything jells.
Bradley won't make predictions.
"I haven't set any goals. You can't do that this soon," he said, after giving individual rundowns on the players that portrayed each as a mini-Pele. "But I think we have the players to play entertaining soccer. We sholud score goals and we should make the game fun for the fans."
Bradley is aware that the Dips spent a lot of money on players who didn't produce last year. The team went deep in the red last year and a winning club is imperative in order that paying customers fill seats in RFK Stadium.
The team averaged 13,000 fans a game last season using giveaways and gimmicks. This year, only one gimmick will work - a winning team.
Team President Steve Danzansky and General Manager John Carbray hired bradley because of his reputation as a recruiter. He immediately told them a housecleaning was imperative. It has been done. Money has been spent.
"Of course, I haven't told Steve how much all this is going to cost yet," Bradley said with a laugh, too.
But underneath the laughter, everyone in the Dips organization is serious. Danzansky has to answer to his board at San Juan Racing, Inc., if the fails again on the field and at the box office.
Carbray must answer to Danzansky for last year's problem in reorganizing. Bradley must answer to both for money he has spent on players.
"The players are here," Bradley said firmly.
If so, the fans shold not be far be-bind. And as soccer enters its fifth year in Washington, that is the bottom line.