The Washington Diplomats, concerned about a battered and bruised defensive unit, have signed Belgium midfielder-defender Mathis Van Toorn.
The 27-year-old Holland native led his Charlaloi team against Bayreven in the Belgium Cup final last night but is expected to arrive here in time to suit up for tonight's contest at 8 o'clock against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at Lockhart Stadium.
"We're hurting a little on defense." said Washington Coach Gordon Bradley. "He (Van Toorn) is a fine player and will be a great help to us. Our next four out of five games are the road and with Mike Dillon out (suspension) and Tommy O'Hara still hurting (tailbone) we needed some help."
Despite leading the NASL in defense (four goals allowed in eight games, Washington, 7-1, has lost every defensive starter except right back Roy Willner and goalkeeper Bill Irwin for a period of time. The latest casualty is Alex Pringle (ankle), who replaced Dillon at center back the last two games.
"Tommy is very doubtful for and Alex is questionable," said Bradley. "It won't be easy to beat them down here. They'll be waiting for us after that 4-1 thrashing we gave them. Plus, they've added a few new players."
Bradley was impressed with the play of reserves Gary Darrell and Randy Garber in Saturday's 4-0 whitewash of the Tulsa Roughnecks but had to be biting his nails over the growing list of injured players.
So much so, he had to go against one of his personal tabooz by signing a loan player in Van Toorn.
Bradley prefers to purchase the contracts of players but, in this case, made an exception.
Van Toorn's credentials are impressive. The 5-foot-10, 168 pounder has played for the first division Charlaloi club for five years. The team captain, Van Toorn was voted the game's outstanding player last week when his club defeated Bruges in the Belgium CUp semifinals.
Before coming to Charlaloi, he played five seasons with Ferynwood, a Dutch first division club.
Described as a leader, Van Toorn should fit in well with sweeperbac Jim Steele and Irwin, who lowered his goals against average to 0.49 and is tied for the NASL lead in that department with Kevin Keelan of New England.
Whether the Belgium star plays or not tonight will not change Bradley's strategy against the surging Strikers, now 4-4.
"We still have to be cautious early just as we did against Tulsa. We'll try to contain them in the first half until our defense settles down," said Bradley. "After that, we'll open up."
The Dips' offense did open up last week, scoring four goals. Paul Cannell, now tied for third in the league in scoring with 16 points, Ray Graydon, Mike Bakic and Bobby Stokes also enjoyed a field day in the earlier meeting with the Strikers and their 38-year-old goalie Gordon Banks, considered one of the top players at his position in the world.
Washington bombed Banks for three goals before Cannell crunched the former English league star and knocked him out of the games with a shoulder injury.
Fort Lauderdale, 15-3 at home over the last two seasons, has won four of its last five games. But Ron Newman's crew may be a bit winded after playing an exhibition game against Blackpool Monday night in Atlanta. The visiting team from England won, 2-0.
Fort Lauderdale's David Irwin scored the only goal Washington has allowed in the first half this year . . . Cannell and Carmine Marcantonio are one yellow card from sitting out a one-game suspension. Each has four. . . The Dips are tied for second in goals scored with 17, six behind the Cosmos . . . On the strength of his two-goal effort last week, Bakic was voted the NASL Player of the Week. His two goals gave him 10 points, equaling his entire 1977 output with the Rochester Lancers.