Bobby Stokes, Tommy O'Hara and Alex Pringle scored in a tie-breaker shootout for a 3-1 edge and the Washington Diplomats pulled out a 1-0 overtime victory over the Minnesota Kicks in a NASL match before 13,226 yesterday at RFK Stadium.
The victory increases Washington's National Conference, Eastern Division record to 4-0. The Diplomats, equaling the teams best start in its five-year history, hold a share of first place with the Cosmos, 3-1 winner over Dallas yesterday. Both teams have 32 points.
For the first 105 minutes 90 in regulation and two 7-minute overtimes, Washington dominated both ends of the field. The Diplomats outshot the '76 Super Bowl finalists, 30-25, and missed a least 10 opportunities to win before the shootout.
"The goalie (Tito Lettieri) must've prayed. If he had closed his eyes once, the ball would've hit him in the face," said Washington's Paul Cannell, who took 12 shots. "He did a lot of guessing. I've never seen such a obe-sided game."
Lettieri, with 12 saves, was not match for the more experienced Dips in the shootout. In this tie-breaker system, each team alternates five players who have five seconds to score from the 35-yard line. Each player pits his speed and ball-handling skills against the goalie, one on one. The team that makes the best of five wins.
Ace Ntsoelengoe missed badly on his first opportunity as Washington goalie Bill Irwin rushed out to meet him and the Kicks' winger bombed the ball over the gaol.
Stokes then slipped a soft shot past Lettieri for the first goal.
Strangely, Minnesota's Chico Hamilton lined up for his attempt but apparently didn't hear the starting horn and stook as the clock ticked off five seconds. Referee Jim Highet blew the play dead and the Kicks erupted.
Coach Freddie Goodwin rushed onto the field to comfront Highet. After several minutes of debate, Highet waved Goodwin away and signaled play to continue.
"This game is being played under protest. He (Highet) never explained how the shootout was to work," said an irate Goodwin. "In Dallas (Kicks lost, 4-3), the referee put the ball (start play) with a whistle. Here, they used a horn and we didn't know whether it was coming out of the crowd or what."
Minnesota was fuming and O'Hara made the visitors more miserable by hitting his attempt from 15-feet to lift the Dips into a 2-0 advantage.
Alan Merrick got past Irwin on his try and the Washington goalie fouled him. Somehow, Merrick's 12-foot penalty kick was blocked by Irwin. Washington's Carmine Marcantonio kept the game interesting with a miss and the Mark Moran of the Kicks cut the deficit to 2-1.
Washington needed only one of its next two shots to hand the Kicks their third straight loss of the '78 season. Pringle, starting at the sweeper back in plade of Jim Steele (groin), took off slowly before suddenly blasting a low liner past Lettieri for the winner.
"We should've never been in that (shootout). We should have won easy," said Pringle.
Pringle and teammates spent more time criticizing their performance although it was one of the finest overall games the Dips have played.
The offense worked the ball around freely and the defense, despite Pringle seeing his first action this year, handcuffed the Kicks. Minnesota was credited with 25 shots but only four were closed enough to have any chance.
Washington winger Ken Mokgojoa played extremely well. The quick South African, with fellow countryman Andries Maseko and Cannell, gave Minnesota trouble with quick moves and feints into the middle.
More than once a Washington player had a chance to be a hero in regulation but either goalie Lettieri, a kick defender, or the post stopped a goal.
In the final seconds of the first overtime, Stokes scored what appeared to be the game winner but referee Highet ruled time had expired, setting off an argument spearheaded by Coach Bradled.
With 15 seconds to play and Washington in control, O'Harra was kicked and went down. Referee Highet allowed play to continue for another 10 seconds before stopping play. Bradley maintained he should have stopped play immediately, which would have given Washington enough time to score.
When play started with five seconds remaining a Cannel kick bounced off the post and caromed to Stokes who sent the ball into the net for an apparent goal. But Highet ruled it had come too late.
"We were penalized for our man being injured," said Bradley. "They fouled us and the referee let at least 10 seconds run off. He said the goal by Bobby was three seconds after the period had ended."
Mokgojoa almost won it in the next OT. He outran three Kicks defenders down the right sideline and cut inside toward Letteri. But Mokgojoa, instead of taking a 12-footer, elected to go closer and the goalie stopped the ball as the period ran off.
Although they had been handled easily in every phase of the game, the Kicks dressing room was the scence of anger over the Hamilton call.
"I never heard any horn. I stood watching the ref and he was looking at me," said Hamilton. "I couldn't believe it when he said time was up. It was a joke."