The ongoing battle between the North American Soccer League and the 18-month-old NASL Players Association may move to the courts early next year.

The players association filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board on Nov. 28 because the league has refused to negotiate a contract.

The league was granted a 15-day extension on filing a reply on Dec. 8 and must respond to the unfair labor practice charge by Saturday. The NLRB could issue a ruling or the debate could land in court in New York with or without an NLRB ruling.

Basis of the dispute is the league's refusal to recognize the union, certified in a vote by the league's players as their official bargaining unit.

League officials have maintained that each team should act as a separate bargaining unit rather than players from the 24 teams forming one unit as they do in baseball, football, basketball and hockey.

"Right now they're just using stalling tactics," said John Kerr, director of the soccer association and chief aide to executive director Ed Garvey. "Everything else in the league is done on a league-wide basis, why not this?

"We have a league-wide draft, a league-wide waiver system, and a standard league contract. Why shouldn't we have a league-wide union? Their claims are a joke."

Joke or not, league officials, who have opposed the union at every turn since its inception in August, 1977, apparently are not going to join the players at the negotiating table until they have to.

NASL players are the lowest paid among team pro sports in North America, the average player-aside from the Backenbauers and Chinaglias - making between $10,000 and $12,000 a season.

The payroll of the Washington Diplomats will rise considerably when Coach Gordon Bradley, armed with the checkbook of Gulf and Western, finishes his international scouting tours.

But the early hopes of signing some of the world's best players appears to have gone.

"I talked with four or five of the top plyers in the world when I was in Europe last month," Bradley said. "They're all locked into long-term contracts with their clubs.

"Some are very interested in coming here, and we could match their salaries, but their clubs are asking absolutely astronomical figures to sell their contracts."

As a result, Bradley has set his sights a bit lower. "We're still looking at top-level players," he said. "We're just not looking at the best, or second-or third-best players in the world. But the people we sign will be first-class soccer players."

Bradley spent much of November in Europe and is close to signing two players, perhaps by early January. He will spend a good part of this month in South America and probably will announce most of his signings next month.

He scouts all over North America looking for one or two American players to sign or trade for. Bradley hopes to find six, maybe seven players, one or two Americans. The Dips should have a good idea of what their starting lineup will be by Feb. 1.

The Dips will begin training for their March 25 season opener about Feb. 10 and will travel later that month to the Dominican Republic for 10 days of training and travel. In March, they will make a swing through Florida, playing several exhibitions, and may stop in Atlanta for a game with the Chiefs, who moved to Atlants from Denver.

The Chiefs will make their debut on April 1 at RFK Stadium-the Dips second game of the season. Their director of personnel is Terry Hanson former Washington assistant general manager.

Hanson, 31, is the only member of the front office to leave Washington since the club was sold. He is viewed by soccer people as one of the brightest young men in the game and he was viewed by Washington administrators, players and media as one of soccer's class people.