The Washington Diplomats spotted Fort Lauderdale a goal before flexing their muscles and roaring from behind to thump the Strikers, 4-1, in a North American Soccer League game before 11.322 yesterday at RFK Stadium.
The victory - good for a maximum nine points - gave the Dips a 3-0 record and put them in first place in the National Conference's Eastern Division. Washington has 25 points two more than The Cosmos (3-0), who beat Tulsa, 1-0, yesterday.
The Dips' chances at tying a club record of three straight shutouts ended at the 7:13 mark when David Irving lofted a shot over Washington goalie Bill Irwin.
"Tommy (O'Hara) and I were a bit close together and we didn't expect him to shoot," said defender Mike Dillon. "He was my man and we backed up a bit and he let it go."
O'Hara felt Irving's 20-foot goal wasn't a shot at all, but an attempted crossing pass.
"At that angle, it looked like a cross, but it lifted high over Bill," said O'Hara. "It set us back a little but we quickly picked ourselves up, didn't we?"
Washington was a bit ragged at the begining of the nationally televised game, which was blackedout here. The Dips missed passes, booted 40-yard kicks upfield to no one in particular and lost men of defense. But Irwin's goal, only the second scored by the injury-depleted Strikers (0-3) this year, seemed to inspire Washington more than it did Fort Lauderdale.
"Maybe it was the national TV and the appearance of Mr. (Henry) Kissinger," said Washington coach Gordon Bradley." The lads were trying too hard. We finally put some combinations together and came on."
Come on, they did. Washington suddenly became aggressive on defense while Paul Cannell, Mike Bakic and Bobby Stokes began getting open for shots.
Cannell and Bakic missed open headers from 10 years within minutes of one another midway in the first half, but it was easy to see the complexion of the game had changed.
After a Bakic shot was kicked out of bounds, Washington set up for a corner kick. Bakic laid up a perfect floater that Cannell controlled and headed in for the typing goal at the 36:26 mark.
The second half was all Washington. The defense smothered Fort Lauderdale at one end while the Dips' offense put the Strikers' 38-year old goalkeeper, Gordon Banks, through a torture test.
Banks was credited with nine saves but was no match for the four-five-six-and sometimes nine-man Dips attack.
After five straight misses, the Dips connected. Ken Mokgojoa, who repalced Ray Graydon (knee injury) in the first half, turned around defender Gordon Fearnley with a fake and sent an easy crossing pass into the middle of the Fort Lauderdale goal area. Bakic, selected as the outstanding offensive player of the game, dashed in and headed in the goal at the 65:05 mark.
"I had no chance on that one," said Banks.
For the next few minutes, the Dips played keep-away and never looked toward the goal. If the strategy was to lull the pressing visitors to sleep, it worked.
Bobby Stokes, who slips around the big three up front and picks up all the loose balls, snuck past his man, handled a short pass from Cannell and left-footed home a bullet from 20 yards out to put the Dips ahead, 3-1, at the 82:25 mark.
Banks, who had been burned for nine goals in his first games this year, was not the victim on that one. The former World Cup keeper from England injured his elbow on a fall and had been replaced by Marine Cano.
Cano's welcome to the NASL became even more of a nightmare five minutes later. Midfielder Sakib Viteskic slipped a 15-footer pass Cano for Washington's last goal.
Washington had a 21-14 shot advantage. The Dips also continued to whip their opponent physically, recording 21 fouls to Fort Lauderdale's 17. The Dips picked up three more yellow cards to bring their season total to six.
Washington will meet the Minnesota Kicks in its next game Sunday at RFK at 2:30 p.m.