The Washington Diplomats, with several new faces and a fresh enthusiasm, will wecome their srrongest comtingent of players ever when training camp opens Monday at RFK Stadium.
Washington Coach Gordom Bradley spent much of the off-season searching for top-caliber players in the hope of improving last year's disappointing 16-14 record. Washington lost to Portland, 2-1, in the first round of the North American Soccer League play-off.
"We plan to do better. The players returning are in excellent physical shape, at least 30-40 percent fitter than opeinig day last year," Bradley said. "I went out to improve the depth of our Maerican players and I've done that with the addition of Don Droege (acquired from Rochester) and Rovert Iarusic (from the Cosmos)."
Bradley, with money from the Dips' new owner, Gulf and Western, went after English winger Kevin Keegan, one of the world's top plauers, and defender Daniel Passarella, who led Argentian to the Would Cup title last year.
The Keegan deal fell through but the Dips still are negotiating for Passarella.
Droege and Iarusci, along with recently purchased Dutch forward Denny Molendyk, draft choices Dragan Radovich, Aleks Mihailovic and Kip Germain, former star at Stuart High School and William and Mary, and 17 veterans will report for conditioning drills the first day.
Players not returning include Ray Graydon, who established a Dip assist record of 17 last year, defender Alex Pringle (sold to Atlanta), midfielder Cus Hiddink (on loan) and Gene Mishalow and Randy Garber, both released.
The team will work out daily at RFK until Feb. 15 when they leave for a 10-day training session in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and four exhibition games in Santa Domingo.The dips return March 12 and will train here before opening the season March 25 against Fort Lauderdale.
"We're still a few players away but I'm pleased with what we have," said Bradley. "We had a strong combination of players at the end of last season and we have added some good young ones. I have always wanted to build around youth."
The goalkeeper job should be the most hotly contested. Bill Irwin, last year's regular, will be challenged by backup Bobby Stettler; by Eric Martin, who had the job for several years before breaking a leg during an indoor game last season, and by draftee Radovich, from St. Francis (N.Y.)
Art Welch, who sat out last year with a leg injury, will also try to make the club. Ken Mokgojoa is completing his season in South Africa and won't rejoin the club until March.