Washington ranks among the top five North American Soccer League teams in a very telling statistic - the Diplomats have accumulated more than 130 penalty points.

The reward for such crunching play will be noticeable by its absence Saturday night when the Diplomats host the Philadelphia Fury at 8 o'clock at RFK Stadium. Washington's best players, striker Paul Cannell and sweeper-back Jim Steele, will not be playing because of suspensions.

It is a problem Diplomat Coach Gordon Bradley has had to wrestle with all season.

"In a lot of ways we've been our worst enemy," said Bradley. "Penalties have hurt us more than anything else. We've punished ourselves. It's disheartening to me."

Cannell, the Dips' leading scorer with 29 points, is serving out a 10-day suspension handed out by NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam. Cannel will be able to play against San Jose on July 15th, the first of two Diplomat road games.

Steele, the team's defensive leader, was ejected during Washington's 3-2 loss Saturday at Tampa Bay. Normally, that would mean Steele would have to sit out the next Diplomat home game. Not in this instance, however.

Because Cannell is already on suspension, Bradley could play Steele against Philadelphia. But if he did, Steele would have to sit out the next home game, Rochester, an Eastern Division foe and a much more important opponent than the Fury.

(NASL rules allow a team with a player already on suspension to play the second suspended player until the initial suspension is completed.)

"I'm 90 percent sure Jim Steele will sit out with Paul Cannell," said Bradley. "Jim has a groin injury. If I rest him this week it will serve two purposes. He'll be eligible to play and fit next time."

Steele has another problem to contend with. He has 31 penalty points just four shy of an automatic suspension for two home games. His next yellow card, which brings with it one to four points could be costly to the Dips.

"He gets the yellow cards," said Bradley of Steele. "I don't see how he's going to stop now. That's his style of play. I expect him to get it."

Cannell also is climbing toward a two-game suspension with 27 points. Penalty points are kept through the playoffs.

Washington has won four of its last six games and is in second place with 109 points in the National Conference's Eastern Division. The Cosmos led the division with 149 points. Rochester has 92 and Toronto 89.

If the Diplomats were to finish the regular season with the second-best point total in the conference, they would host a first-round playoff game. Vancouver, which has played two fewer games than Washington is ahead in that race with 115 points.

Bradley would like to play a first-round game here but is more concerned with just making the playoffs, limited to the first two teams in each division. Washington got into the playoffs last in 1976, losing to the Cosmos in the first round.

"Our goal at the beginning of the season was to make the playoffs," said Bradley. "It's going to be hard enough to do that."