Like most of his players on the Washington Diplomats, Coach Gordon Bradley received a traditional education in the game of soccer.

He was taught that the name of the game is defense. "When I was raised in England," Bradley said, "the teams were very conservative and very disciplined. A coach might give you a defensive job to do and you'd do it for 90 minutes. He might say, 'You block so and so out of the game and stay on him if he goes to the bathroom.'"

But Bradley had had to turn his back on the precepts of his youth, and now he is teaching his young players in the Dips' training camp here to do the same. He is teaching them something that purists might argue does not even exist: the American style of soccer.

The style is dictated partly by the rules of the North American Soccer League and partly by box office economics.

"Because there are no ties in the league," Bradley said, "you can't afford to play too conservatively. You could take an early 1-0 lead and play a defensive game, but I'm willing to keep playing offensively and risk losing 4-3 or 5-4.

"Of course, in football or baseball, you wouldn't use such tactics." But football and baseball teams don't feel the need to stage exciting games to sell tickets.

When Bradley came from the Cosmos to the Dips before last season, he inherited a 10-6 team and decided to revitalize it with young, aggressive players. The team went 16-14 last year.

Even though Madison Square Garden Corp., with its big bankroll, acquired the team last fall, the Dips have not followed the example of the Cosmos in acquiring established, bigname stars like Pele and Franz Beckenbauer.

The owners are worried that baseball might return to Washington and turn a big investment in soccer into a losing proposition. And besides, Bradley said, "I don't want an over-the-hill gang."

Bradley maintains a network of friends in major soccer-playing nations who do scouting for him, and since coming to Washington, he has brought to the Diplomats a diverse blend of players from Belgium, Holland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, South Africa, Great Britain and the United States.

He figures that the team will be stronger in at least four positions this season. The acquisition of midfielders Joszef Horvath and Rene Breevoort should boster one of the team's problem areas.

One of the fascinating aspects of soccer is its international scope and its variety. Different nations and different regions have very different styles and philosophies of play. So taking players from farflung corners of the earth and transforming them into a team is not an easy matter. In the brief history of American professional soccer, some such attempts have failed dismally.

So before the Dip season begins, Bradley must do much more than get his players into good physical condition.

"We have to get the best individually out of 11 players so they complement each other and build up an attack," he said. "I have to teach them tactics and patterns, get them to play as a unit. That's one reason we come here for training: so the players live together, eat together, develop camaraderie."

The Dips will travel on Sunday to the Dominican Republic, where they will continue their training, and then return to Washington two weeks before their season opener March 25. By that time, Bradley hopes, he will have molded a diverse group of individuals into a team. And, he hopes further, it will be a team capable of winning its games 4-3 or 5-4.