It is not often a coach and player agree 100 percent on anything. But Washington Diplomat Coach Gordon Bradley and midfielder-forward Bobby Stokes nod their head in unison that tonight's Eastern divisional clash against the Toronto Metros at RFK stadium is the biggest game of the season.
Washington, 8-5 with 71 points, has dropped three straight games and four of its last five. Tonight's 8 o'clock contest is the first interdivisional game for the Dips. If Washington expects to stay close to the Cosmos, 10-2, and 86 points, in the race for the title, a victory is imperative.
"As far as I'm concerned this is an 18-point game. We need to win this one to separate ourselves from the people behind us," said Bradley.
Rochester is third in the National Conference's East Division with a 5-7 mark and 47 points. The Metros are last with a 4-7 record and 38 points.
Stokes, who, with goalkeeper Bill Erwin, has played every minute of the season, is looking at this game as a title game.
"It's very important we win this one. We've been hurt by injuries but despite the knocks, the lads have done well," said Stokes. "Even the lads who are sore are playing and not complaining. Last year, we would have gone on the road and been bloody useless.But this group never quits. We had chances to win all three of those road game we lost."
Stokes, who at tines seems to become invisible in the Dips' 4-2-4 alignment, says tonight is the perfect time to snap out of what he considers a mild slump.
With Paul Cannell, the team's leading scorer, sitting out the game on suspension and winger Mike Bakic hobbled with a thigh strain, Stokes expects to be more offensive minded.
"I've been displeased with my goal production (three). As long as we were winning, I wasn't complaining," said the 5-foot-9, 160-pound native of England. "I may have been playing a bit too deep at times and don't get in scoring position. I've been concentrating on defense."
Bradley, who because of the rash of injuries that have riddled his club, may sacrifice a little on defense to work Stokes in the offense a bit more. Ray Graydon will start at one wing and either Ken Mokgojoa and newly signed David Proctor, both limping badly with sprained ankles will play in Cannell's spot. If one of the two cannot play, quick Adries Maseko, looking for his first goal in the NASL, will start.