Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
The Washington Diplomats held off a furious final-minute assault by the Toronto Metros-Croatia and, despite losing, 2-0, clinched second place in the National Conference Eastern Division of the North American Soccer League last night as the season came to a close.
The Dips entered the game with a nine-point lead over their division rivals from Toronto and needed only to lose by fewer than three goals to secure second place.
From the outset, Coach Gordon Bradley had the Diplomats put a wall in front of goalie Bill Irwin. Despite the extra emphasis on defense, Irwin was called upon to make several outstanding saves as Toronto pressed from the opening whistle.
Although the first half was scoreless, Toronto held a 14-5 edge in shots. Irwin made diving saves on Sead Susic, Ivan Lukacevic and Vanco Balevski in the first 45 minutes and was aided by the goalpost that deflected a shot by Marko Vujkovic.
Washington's lone scoring opportunity came on a shot by Sakib Viteskic in the 39th minute that was tipped over the crossbar by Toronto goalie Zeljko Bilecki.
Toronto continued to press in the second half with Susic finally beating Irwin at the 56:30 mark. Susic took a pass from Ray Treacy and sent a low shot to the right corner of the goal, to give Toronto the lead.
Toronto closed within one goal of second place when center-forward Lukacevic headed in a shot from Vujkovic at 81:28.
Lukacevic's 16th goal of the year tied a team mark for most goals in a season set by Eusebio in 1976. The goal also gave him 37 points, which broke the mark of 36 set by Eusebio in 1976. Vujkovic's assist was his 11th of the year and tied a club mark set by John Coyne in 1975.
In the remaining nine minutes Toronto swarmed around the Washington goal but was unable to beat Irwin and his defense.
Despite the loss, Washington now travels to Portland to meet the Timbers Wednesday night in the playoffs. The game will be a rubber match: the diplomats were edged, 2-1, in Portland in a shootout but rebounded to blank the Timbers, 3-0, at home.
Toronto goes to Vancouver for a rematch with the powerful Whitecaps. Toronto blanked Vancouver, 1-0 in overtime, in the only regular season meeting between the clubs back on June 17. The loss to Toronto was Vancouver's last this season.