The Washington Diplomats were still seething yesterday over the 23-day suspension and $1,500 fine levied against defender Mike Dillon as they prepared for tonight's 8 p.m. game with the Tulsa Roughnecks at RFK Stadium.
Dillon, the center back in the Dips' aggressive unit that has allowed only four goals this year, was handed the worst penalty in the NASL's 11-year history by Commissioner Phil Woosnam, following an altercation between Dillon and referee Juan Pinto at the conclusion of the Washington-Dallas game April 29.
The 5-foot-11 native of England admitted he ran up to Pinto and shoved him but felt the penalty was a bit "surprising."
Dillon was angry over what he considered to be poor officiating of the game.
"I'm upset but relieved it's over, he said. "Just practicing, not knowing what they planned to do to me, was tough. I played poorly in the game and was upset with myself. There definitely was physical contact. I pushed him."
Ted Howard, the NASL's director of operations, said the heavy penalty was levied because "of the nature of conduct by Dillon and the abuse that took place after the game was over.
"We have warned all the clubs that any conduct directed at game officials would carry a penalty," he said. "And we felt this was an instance where a harsh penalty was warranted.This is a chief concern for Phil (Woosnam) and I (sic). We don't want what happens in other countries during soccer games to occur here."
A mild-mannered man, Dillon had thrown only seven fouls in six games. That statistic is particularly meaningful since Washington is among the league leaders in penalties - 145 - and ranks second behind San Jose in points (52-51) accumulated by yellow penalty cards.
Each time a player is given a yellow card, he receives three or four penalty points, depending on the severity of the offense. A red card carries 10 penalty points for flagrant violations. Once a player reaches 20 points, and for each subsequent points, he is suspended for one home game.
To date, the Dips have been tagged with 15 yellow cards and one red card. The leading offenders are midfielder Carmine Marcantonio with 18 points and striker Paul Canneww with 14.
Several of the players say the league had become oversensitive about Washington's physical play and was used the Dips and the Dillon situation as an example for the other teams in the NASL.
It was ridiculous. That's why too much money. Maybe the commisioner is under a little pressure to crack down," said sweeper back Jim Steele. "We can't afford to lose Mike that long. It'll have a very bad affect on our team. We had just begun to blend together very well back there."
Dillon's suspension for the next five games became even more serious when left back Tommy O'Hara, accidentally kicked in the tailbone by Steele last week, was declared doubtful for tonight's game.
It's very sore. I don't think I'll play," said O'Hara, considered one of the top defenders in the NASL.
If O'Hara is unable to play, either Randy Garber of Gene Mishalow will draw the starting assignment. Neither has played a minute this year. Dillon's place will be taken by veteran Alex Pringle.
Washington General Manager John Carbray was not too happy over the decision, either.
"For what happened, that was a very stiff, harsh penalty," said Carbray. "We have the option to appeal but, by the time we sit down and go through all the procedures, the 28 days will be up."
Dillon's $1,500 fine may be peanuts to a Reggis Jackson or a Dr. J, but the average NASL player's salary ranges between $15,000 and $35,000 a year.
"It's not the money so much. I just hate to miss the games," said Dillon, who will miss five contest. Dillon said he was responsible for the two goals by Dallas that sent Washington down to its only loss this season in seven games. "My man scored the first goal, and then I was called for a penalty, a bad call, that led to the second one Dallas won 2-0. That's why I was so upset. The club is behind me and I don't think one player should make that much difference. We have some players who can fill in."
The National Conference's Central Division leaders, the Roughnecks have won three straight games since losing at home to Washington, 2-1. They are 5-3 overall.
Former Washington winger Jimmy Redfern (one goal, two assists), Ninoslav Zec (two goals, six assists and Bill Sautter, a rookie from Temple who set a NASL record by scoring three goals on his first three shot attempts, will test the revamped Dip defense.
Tulsa goalkeeper Colin Boulton has allowed only six goals, none in his last three outings, and recorded 49 saves.
"I think we'll have to think more goals since our defense will not be at full strenth," said Cannell, the Dip's leading scorer (five goals, one assist). "It creates a little more pressure on us."
"We'll have to play a lot tougher than we did last week," said defender Roy Willner. "And with Mike gone . . . this game will tell if we can stand the competition."