The World Cup stimulates us in several ways. It causes us to appreciate once again the cerebral and physical possibilities of the world's sporting passion, soccer. It also allows us a direct free kick at soccer's international officials and the realization that, after 12 years, one sees a vastly improved professional game in Washington but the same waves of empty seats in RFK Stadium.

It was the '66 World Cup, specifically an Englishman named Geoff Hurst, that caused some otherwise excellent businessmen to make a bad business decision - that the sport nearly everyone else on the globe supported with such zeal would turn a swift and handsome profit in America.

Nothing of the sort happened. Like any child, the North American Soccer League and a tough time learning to walk and negotiate among older and stronger rivals, especially football and baseball.

Also, much of the NASL has fallen prey to the childlike instincts of grabbing for too much too soon, to play in the RFX Stadiums of the country when the crowds are more suited to the Woodson Highs. And to expand the league simply because more seems better.

No longer are there doubts about the league surviving. But the world governing body, FIFA, is not helping the NASL's chances of one day flourishing by being snooty about two rules to help Americanize the game.

To put more offense in its product, the NASL has added two more lines to the field, limiting offside calls to the area inside these 35-yard lines instead of midfield. Also, there are no tie games, because of a gimmick called "shootout" after a 15-minute sudden-death overtime period.

Fifa has threatened all manner of reprisals if the NASL does not discontinue such heresy, failing to realize that these are desperate moves by near-desperate people that will help the sport worldwide if they stimulate interest in soccer in America.

Besides, what major sport or major sports league has not compromised rather drastically to help bolster interest? The U.S. Open no longer has a 36-hole final round; the PGA no longer has match play; the old course at St. Andrews has 18 holes instead of 14; there is open tennis.

The American League has a designated hitter; the NBA has a 24-second clock; the NFL was generally a whole new ball game once George Preston Marshall and George Halas finished tinkering in the '30s. If the shootout stimulates interest, it ought to be used.

Probably, these gimmicks will have little impact on the survival of the NASL. If success still seems inevitable, it is not likely to come before the thousands of America's soccerplaying youngsters mature in another decade.

Pele gave the NASL credibility; the Cosmos this year provide even more and the Diplomats' coach, Gordon Bradley, said: "I guarantee one of the World Cup players will join the Cosmos after the World Cup."

But some sobering trends remain. St. Louis, once the hotbed of American amateur soccer, no longer supports a pro franchise. And attendance, after a wonderfully upward spiral, is down in several key NASL cities this season.

Tampa is down an average of about 4,000, San Jose and Portland by nearly the same and Dallas by almost 6,000, according to Chuck Reeser of the Associated Press.

From the Whips to the Dips, from the one-armed Argentine, Victorio Casa, to the gifted striker with a mean streak. Paul Cannell, Washingtonians have watched the caliber of NASL play rise at a much faster rate than paying customers.

One notion persists: the core of knowledgeable soccer fans in Washington was so disenchanted with the early product it has not bothered to come sample the improved version.

New York offers supporting evidence. Without Pele, but probably with a better team, the Cosmos are more than 18,000 ahead of last season's per-game home attendance.

What helped sink pro track also hampers the NASL - too many performances to keep the performers sharp. As Bradley said: "You can't play Sunday, Tuesday, Saturday and then Tuesday again. Soccer is like football, best played once a week.

"Soccer teams have a nucleus of four players or so, the rest you build with. We have that nucleus - and they're all injured at the moment."

A visit to Constitution Hall, for Holland vs. Italy, confirms the potential for soccer interest, though many World Cup games tend to resemble the NFL playoffs for their emphasis on defense.

The power and accuracy of the players is vast the ability to move from offense to defense remarkable. One recalls certain passes and plays more clearly than goals, but leaves with the belief that a 6-5 American basketball player with limited training would be as good a good-keeper as most Europeans or South Americans with a lifetime of experience.

While the rest of the planet ponders Holland vs. Argentina Sunday - whether the Dutch can leave the country safely if they win or the referees remain alive if they allow that to happen - the World Cup's stepchild, the NASL, tries to kick time.Or at least hustle and scratch and cope until a generation grows up.