The Washington Diplomats were the early season surprises of the North American Soccer League. They won seven of their first eight games. Now, they're confused, frustrated and mentally and physically drained.

They have lost a team record six consecutive games.

With the season barely half over, with Dips aren't thinking about winning their division.

"The key now is not to catch the (New York-New Jersey) Cosmos but to make the playoffs," General Manager John Carbray said.

"We have to play 30 games and it only matters what you do in the last few," he added, apparently writing off most of the regular season.

The Dips' defense has been sloppy and noncommunicate while the offense has produced only five goals in the last six games.

Coach Gordon Bradley says a victory would be an immediate cure-all.

"All we need is a victory, that's all. Thre's no reason for panic," said Bradley, the eternal optimist. "We need more concentration on the field and a few goals."

Team sources say the Dips' losing streak may never have reached this alarming stage had Bradley changed his lineup earlier. The coach said he will make a chance in tonight's game against the New England Tea Men in Foxboro, Mass. (WTTG-TV-5.8 p.m.).

"The changes will be nothing wholesale," Bradley said. "I may go back to a standard three-men using. It depends on the situation. I know we've got to do something soon."

The Dips were sailing along with an 8-2 record before injuries crippled them. Bradley had to use makeshift lineups throughout a road trip that produced one-goal losses in Portland, Vancouver and Minnesota.

Most of the injured players returned for the Toronto and Houston games, but the Dips played worse and were blanked at home by Toronto, 3-0, and in Houston, 1-0.

Bradley signed four new players during the slump but only Cus Hidink looks as if he can help.

"The injuries were an excuse a while ago, but we can't use that anymore," Bradley said.

The first-year coach, club President Steve Danzansky and Carbray are confident the team will rebound.

"I told the players after the Vancouver loss to remember the fat lady," said Danzansky. "We have a long way to go and Gordon knows what he has to do. He'll make whatever changes are necessary, I have no doubt that we'll be in the playoffs when the year ends."

One imminent change will probably be on defense. Sweeperback Jim Steele will probably play, despite a groin pull.

"He (Steele) is the organizer. When he speaks, you listen," Bradley said. "Our communication on defense has been poor. If Jimmy had been out there Saturday, no way would Vancouver have scored that tying goal off a free kick.

"The other players feel more comfortable knowing he's around."

Both tonight's game and Sunday's with the Cosmos will be on artificial turf. Washington usually does not play well on fast, slick surfaces.

New England (9-5) has 75 points, is hot and would like nothing better than to increase its lead over American Conference East Division pursuers Fort Lauderdale, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia.

After the road trip, Washington will play at home against Los Angeles, Portland and San Diego.

"It doesn't matter who or where you play now," Bradley said. "You have to win. The lads are a little frustrated, but that's normal when you're losing. But nobody is down. No one's hanging his head. One win and all our problems will be over."