Sonny Askew, the youngest player ever to wear the Washington Diplomat uniform, has waited quietly and patiently for a chance to play regularly. Now in his third season, the 21-year-old Askew admits he is beginning to lose just a little patience.
"I just don't want to be in the league 10 years and play a total of nine games," said Askew, who signed with Washington as a free agent at age 19.
"I feel I can play but it's been a little discouraging so far. I haven't given up, but I would like a chance to play. I'd play anywhere."
The 6-foot, 180-pound Askew, who possesses excellent ball skills and the physical size that scorers need to take the punishment from defenders, has been the most pleasant surprise of the Dips' preseason.
"He's had an excellent training camp," Washington Coach Gordon Bradley said the other day. "Sonny has gotten stronger and more aggressive. He's improved 75 to 80 percent in one year."
Despite Askew's turnabout, it appears the easy-going Baltimore native may again be relegated to the reserve unit when Washington hosts the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in its North American Soccer League opener Sunday at RFK at 2:30.
The Dips, now owned by Gulf and Western, used their new-found prosperity to sign several players who could turn the club into a legitimate title contender. Unfortunately, several of them play Askew's position.
"I was switched from forward to midfielder at the end of last season," Askew said. "Actually, I like the midfield better. At the time, the coach and I felt I had a better chance of playing there, but then the club signed some more midfielders.
"Even now I think I've gained enough experience and confidence to play the position. But I realize, too, the guys in front of me can play."
The probable starters in the midfield Sunday will be Sakib Viteskic, Joe Horvath (acquired in the offseason from Rochester) and converted sweeperback Jim Steele.
The addition of defenders Bobby Iarusci and Don Droege, both picked up in the offseason, made possible the switch of Steele, who is versatile and talented enough to play anywhere.
Ironically, with Paul Cannell, the team's single-season and all-time leading scorer, out with a leg injury and Ken Mokgojoa not expected to report from his South African team for another three weeks, Washington could use another player on the front line.
Askew, an All-America striker at Patterson High School in Baltimore and Essex Community College, where he led the team to the NJCAA championship in 1976, says the position would be strange to him now.
"I've roamed in the middle and scored goals all my career," he said. But when I changed to the midfield, I wanted to establish myself. I don't think I'd do very well up front now. I'm not blessed with that quick speed like wingers are supposed to have. But once I get started, I can run with anyone."
Askew has played extremely well at both midfield and forward in the Dips' seven exhibition games (4-2-1). He scored four goals, the last one during Saturday's 4-2 loss to Atlanta, and had three assists in the preseason.
"I played left wing in that game for the first time in my life," Adkew said. "First half I did okay, the second half I was poor. But the important thing is I was playing."
Adkew played 338 minutes his first year with Washington, getting credit for one assist. Last year, he did not play a single minute. Bradley, hoping to give his talented forward some experience, sent him to Scotland to play for Queen of the South, a first division club.
Askew said the experience was helpful, but he was not impressed with his team, where he was on the reserve unit.
"I scored two goals but our team only scored about six in 20 games," said Askew. "But I picked up quite a few things. I worked very hard."
Joe Mallett, the Dips' assistant coach, concurred that Askew really put out in Scotland and has showed tremendous improvement.
"We had no idea Sonny would come back so improved so we had to go out and strengthen ourselves," said Mallet, who personally worked with Askew. "Right now, the chances of him playing a lot this season are very good."
Askew would like nothing better than to believe Mallett and possibly trot out with the starting unit on Sunday. But he will not pout if he doesn't.
"I plan to just keep on working and do the best I can," said Askew. "I can only hope that if some of the other players don't start off playing well, I'll get a chance. The coaches say I've been playing well. Right now that's my inspiration. I won't get down on myself again."