Shortly after Washington was eliminated, 2-1, in overtime by the Portland Timbers in their NASL quarterfinal match Wednesday night, coach Gordon Bradley and General Manager John Carbray huddled and began discussing plans for next Diplomat season.
"We improved our club 75 percent over 1977 and we accomplished our goal of putting a competitive, entertaining club on the field," said Carbray. "Next year, we want to improve another 50 percent and win the whole thing."
What about reports that San Juan Racing, Inc., the corporate owner of the team, is disillusioned over an estimated $1 million in losses the last two years and wants to sell?
"I haven't even thought about the club not being here," said Carbray. "We'll assume it will be and start working on improving the club. I really don't know SJR's thinking along the lines of selling. But I believe the gamble in Washington is a good one. When it hits here, it'll hit big."
Although it is rumored Carbray will not be around to see the Washington soccer boom take off, the man brought in to put the Dips on the same frequency as the Bullets, Redskins and Capitals says he "definitely will be back."
"No, I haven't signed a contract; I didn't sign one this year, either," said Carbray. "Steve (Danzansky, the club president) and I shook hands when I came here. We shook hands again in Tulsa (April 27) over a three-year contract."
Bradley didn't try to conceal his obvious disappointment over the Dips' playoff loss. "We lost a game we should have easily won, 4-1," he said.
Washington fell behind, 1-0, following a defensive lapse. One of the Timbers' midfielders, Brian McNeil, intercepted a pass and rifled home his second goal of the season at 58:57.
The Dips were outshot, 24-20, but controlled play the final minutes of the first half and much of the second. Only three dazzling saves by Mick Poole, the NASL's third-leading goalkeeper, kept the Dips off the board until the final moments.
With 30 seconds to play, Bobby Stokes, inserted to provide Washington more offense the second half, sent the Portland fans scurrying back to their seats when he blasted in the tying goal.
But Portland's John Bain short-circuited Washington's dream of advancing to the second round. The mid-fielder volleyed a rebound past the Dips' substitute goalie, Bobby Stetler, with 19 seconds left in the first sudden-death overtime.
"We were the fitter team and we played so well. The ball just got jammed between Jimmy (Steele) and one of their players and dropped. Unfortunately, it dropped right at the feet of Bain."
Though the team finished poorly - five consecutive losses - Bradley felt the players never stopped hustling.
Asked if he planned to return next year, the English coach said, "definitely."
During the offseason, Bradley and the front office recognize a need to upgrade the quality of players if they expect to stay competitive.
"I haven't had time to think about who will return and who will not," said Bradley. "But I will be letting some players go."
"We have numbers but I still haven't got the quality of player I need at certain positions. I would like to sign another midfielder, a striker and a defensive player.
"I'm pretty confident the club will not move. Our future looks bright with the players we have and I know we'll be much improved next season."
The Dips this year set several club records - most goals, most wins and most points to mention a few. They won their first five games and for several weeks jockeyed with the Cosmos for first place in the Eastern Division of the National Conference.
But player suspensions, injuries and sloppy play at times led to a six-game losing streak midway through the season before the team rebounded to secure second place in its division.
"We may have lost our last few games but we made some fans," said Bradley. "The fans who came out really supported us. That 10,000 sounded like 20,000 at times."
Washington averaged 10,783 for 15 dates at RFK Stadium this season. Last year the club averaged 13,058 for 13 games.
"I was pleased we drew what we did," said Carbray. "Our goal was to increase our dollars and we did. "We didn't have as many promotions and giveaways this year and we may have had fewer people but we did make a little more money."
One thing Carbray doesn't plan to do is spend any of that money on a world-class superstar.
"Is there one to sign? I'm not sure there is," he said. "We just need a player to go on the field and dominate. Just take over the game. We have to make our own star.
The player closest to being a household name in Washington is striker Paul Cannell.
The combative Englishman, who lead the Dips in scoring with 35 points and in dropped pants during a game with one (for which he was suspended by the league), sometimes drew the ire of Bradley for his tendency to draw fouls instead of scoring goals. The striker was called for 103 fouls, 46 more than Steele, and drew nine yellow caution cards.
But Cannell, with his spirited play and enthusiasm, was easily the crowd favorite.
"Paul is an excellent player," said Bradley. "He played the last half of the season injured."
Bradley said he probably will send several of his players to Europe to work on their skills.Two, Ken Mokgojoa and Andries Maseko, will return to play one more season in South Africa. Others, except Cus Hiddink and Henmy Van der ven, are under contract and will remain in the area giving clinics and working in public relations.