The Washington Diplomats play the first of three road games tonight with limping stars, two new faces and much at stake.
"This trip will be tough," one concerned Dip said. "We'll be lucky to win one. I hope we can at least get some points out of it, though."
Washington will take on the rugged Portland Timber, winners of four in a row and five of their last six, tonight at Portland Civic Stadium (WTOP-Radio-1500, 11 p.m. EDT). Then it's on to Vancouver Saturday night and to Minesota Monday.
The Dips, 8-2, are one point behind The Cosmos in their division and will try to stay close to the division leaders with leading scorer Paul Cannell hurting.
Cannell, with eight goals second in the North American Soccer League the Cosmos' Chinaglia, was kicked in the shin Saturday. It is badly bruised and his status for tonight, and the rest of the trip, is uncertain. He is expected to try to play.
Defender Alex Pringle has a bad ankle, but is expected to play.
Washington will be bolstered, however, by the addition of two players expected to make their debuts as Dips tonight.
They are midfielder Ane Mihailobich, acquired on waivers from the Los Angeles Aztecs, and midfielder-defender Mathis van Toorn, who had been playing for Holland in the Belgium League.
Portland became one of the hottest teams in NASL after strengthening its defenses with two veteran stars from the English League.
The Timbers were using young defenders early this season and lost three of the first six games. Then they acquired Pat Howard from Birmingham - City and Graham Day from the Bistol Rovers, and since have yielded only five goals in six games while playing a wide-open game.
Portland also is the only team to beat the Cosmos this season, winning here a week ago, 2-1.
Portland also has shifted last year's leading scorer, Stewart Scullian, from forward to midfield to make the most of Mike Slater, who tried to make it as a Washington Redinskin kicker a couple of years ago.
He is a NASL star now, having scored the winning goal in one game, assisting on the winner in another and scoring the go-ahead goal in another, all since being acquired from Oakland four games ago.
Clyde Best is Portland's leading scorer with five goals and 16 points.
As a result of recent success, the Timbers have climbed past Vancouver into first place in the Western Division of the National Conference.
In 1975 Portland was a soccer Bowl finalist and soccer was the biggest thing going here, with more than 11,000 season tickets sold Ten years ago there were fewer than 1,500 youngster playing in junior soccer leagues in the Portland area: there are now more than 15,000 participating.
It helps that basketball and soccer are the only major professional sports in Portland.
Portland stumbled the last two years and was last in its division in 1977 with a 10-6 record.
But now that the Trial Blazers have been knocked out of the National Basketball Association playoffs, the Timbers have the field to themselves and Portlanders are getting soccer fever once again.
Washington's strong suit has been defense, and Bill Irwin is the league's top goalie, yielding only 0.79 goals a game. He has five shutouts.