For years, the Washington Post Diplomats have been encouraging the soccer boom among area youths. And it has exploded as they said it would.
But not exactly the way they thought it would.
Two new professional soccer teams are on the drawing board for Washington and, although the parties involved are trying to avoid it, a Great Washington Soccer War looms as a possibility this year.
On one front, the neophyte Super Soccer League, the most recent group, is negotiating with Capital Centre for indoor games this summer that they want to play against the Diplomats of the established North American Soccer League. The Dips play outdoors at RFK Stadium.
In a few weeks, NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam said yesterday, his league expects to release plans for its first official indoor winter season, which would involve possibly 20 games per team between December and February, with playoffs in March.
The Diplomats are negotiating with Capital Centre to play games there, if the winter season concept is approved as expected.
Then there is the Major Indoor Soccer League, which also thinks it would be nice to have a Washington franchise playing at the Largo arena between December and April.
The MISL is talking with Centre officials although the league president, Earl Foreman, is not sure he will be able to get the choice weekend dates he wants because of the schedules of the Centre's regular tenants, the basketball Bullets and hockey Capitals.
The Super Soccer League and its Washington franchise-holders, Richard Ragone and Richard Thier, are also starting off on fairly shaky grounds. A press statement issued by the league Tuesday erroneously named the Capital Centre's board chairman, Abe Pollin, as an owner of the franchise.
An apology was issued to Pollin, who described himself yesterday as being very upset by the error, which Ragone said was committed by a league public relations officer.
But Pollin and Centre President Jerry Sachs also were concerned about getting caught in a battle among three prospective tenants.
"I have told the groups I would hope there would not be a soccer war," Pollin said, echoing Sachs' sentiments.
"I've been caught in sports wars before and I'm not going to get into a sports war again."
The Diplomats were being very diplomatic yesterday.
"We welcome anybody who is interested in developing soccer," said Stephen I. Danzansky, the Diplomats' president. "It's a good sign that so many people are interested in soccer. The game already has and will continue to pay off in terms of fan interest."
But, Danzansky also noted, the NASL outdoor season running from April through late August is "the Big leagues in soccer" attracting fan support and world-class players.
The proposed indoor NASL season, Danzansky added, would be a good supplement to the outdoor season and would enable American players to hone their skills by playing almost year-round as most World Cup contenders do.
Danzansky, Ragone and Foreman all agreed that each year bring a larger pool of American players whom the leagues hope will one day provide the entire squads for U.S. professional soccer teams. To date, about half of the players on NASL teams are from other countries, Wonsnam said.
"The Dips have been in town a number of years and have done fine job of promoting," said Ragone. "We don't want to have a 'war' with anyone. Wars are usually centered on players and we're not going to go after their players.
"I feel the area has the greatest potential for success on the East Coast. The indoor game is faster and Americans might like it more."