The Washington Diplomats, having assembled perhaps the most talented and versatile team in the six-year history of the franchise, will be looking for answers to several critical questions today when they open their North American Soccer League season against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at RFK Stadium at 2:30 p.m.
Washington has strengthened its front line with the addition of Alan Green and Denny Molendyk, the midfield with Joe Horvath and the defense with Bobby larusci and Don Droege.
The acquisitions of larusci and Droege allowed Washington Coach Gordon Bradley to shift his defensive stalwart, sweeper Jimmy Steele, to the center midfield spot, one of last season's headaches.
Steele's shift may be the biggest question mark of all.
Bradley says he is not worried about Steele adjusting to the new spot. But the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Steele, better known for his aggressive defensive play than his playmaking, has his doubts.
"It's been awhile since I played there, maybe when I was a young man," said the 29-year-old Steele. "I'm used to being the last man between the goal and the ball. In the midfield, you tend to ball watch a lot more. The ball is going behind me and to the sides. It's like I'm in no man's land.
"Right now I'm not sure I'm the best man for the job," said Steele, who has played his new position well during the preseason. "As long as it's for the good of the team I'm more than willing to do it. I'll give it a few games and see what happens."
Washington's other question has been answered somewhat. Bradley, desperately needing another goal scorer, signed former Washington forward Green to a three-year contract Thursday night.
The team's top two scores last year are not expected to play the next two weeks. Paul Cannell is recovering from an operation for removal of calcium deposits in his leg, and Ken Mokgojoa is completing his season in South Africa.
Green led the Dips in scoring in 1977, scoring nine goals and getting credit for five assists in 16 games. He will start along with Mike Bakie (six goals) and Bobby Stokes (three goals).
"I know there are better and more talented players here now than a couple of years ago," Green said. "Once I get to know the guys I think we'll play together very well."
Bradley hopes so. The second-year coach visualizes Cannell, who led the team in fouls (102), also combining with Green and Mokogojoa for dozens of goals this year.
Bradley says he also is pleased with his defensive unit composed of Iarusei, Progege, Mike Dillon, Tommy O'Hara and goalkeeper Bill Irwin.
"The back four is better than before and we have more players who can play there," he said.
The defensive unit may be the critical factor against the Strikers.
Peruvian World Cup star Teofilo Cubillas, who scored five goals for his country before it was eliminated in the second round last year, will start on the front line for the visitors.
He may be a one-man show since George Best is still on indefinite suspension by FIFA-soccer's ruling body.
David Irving, last year's leading scorer, and Colin Fowles also are out with injuries and German World Cupper Gerd Mueller will not report until May at the earliest.
"We'll have enough players to play," said Strikers' Coach Ron Newman, shaking off the rash of injuries to his squad.