Diplomat striker Paul Cannell is unhappy with his substitute role and said yesterday if he does not start soon, he will be very upset.

"I'm useless sitting on the bench," said Cannell, the Dips' leading scorer last year and in the club's history. "I'm not a spectator and I feel alienated from the game sitting on the bench. I really didn't want to go to Rochester last week if I wasn't going to play. Some people can come in the game cold, I can't."

Cannell says he is "95 percent fit and can only get completely fit by playing.

"I'm not complaining. I expected to be out a while following my surgery (an operation to remove calcium deposits on his shin in February)," Cannell said. "But I'm completely healed and ready to bust out and go crazy. Stir things up a little."

Washington, still reeling from a disappointing 1-0 overtime loss in Rochester last Sunday, could use the aggressive Cannell Sunday when the Dips host the undefeated Tulsa Roughnecks (4-0) at RFK at 2:30 p.m.

Washington Coach Gordon Bradley knows his striker is getting itchy for action and said he was glad to hear Cannell's plea to play.

"Paul has worked hard this week in practice," said Bradley. "I'm not sure who will start Sunday. We have a few injuries and won't make a decision until Sunday morning. Right now, there's a good chance Paul will start."

Midfielders Jim Steele and Sakib Viteskic both suffered minor leg injuries against Rochester and are listed as questionable. Should either or both sit out the game against the Central Division leaders, Bradley probably will start Rene Breevoort in Steele's spot and Cannell up front along with Bobby Stokes and Alan Green.

"I would feel very comfortable with that lneup," Bradley said. "Bobby has done a marvelous job so far. And he's been playing out of position. But he doesn't complain. The team hasn't lost any confidence but we would like to win this one."

Washington, 3-2 while outshooting all five foes and dominating play much of the time, has had tough luck in its two losses. The posts, a few noncalls that the Washington players felt should have resulted in penalty kicks and some uncanny luck in overtime sessions have kept the Dips from being undefeated.

"I still have no complaints with our record," Bradley said. "The players have done well. Now, a loss of Tulsa may result in a few of our players losing some confidence."

Tulsa, which finished 15-15 and earned a North American Soccer League playoff berth last season in its first year, has improved dramatically under first-year coach Alan Hinton, who has opted for more experienced players.

"Right now, we have a good blend of experience and youth," Hinton said. "But we haven't played a club as good as Washington. This will be a good test for us."

The holdover Roughneck players should remember Cannell well. The unpredictable, free-spirited Englishman showed his displeasure with a foul called against him by dropping his pants in the Dips' 4-0 victory over Tulsa at RFK last year. For his "R"-rated performance, Cannell was hit with a 10-day suspension by NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam.

Cannell said yesterday he received false hope from the "medical people," who said he would be back in action in four weeks following surgery.

"It took a lot longer than I expected," said Cannell, who has played 97 1/2 minutes this season with no points. "I knew I wasn't in shape to play against the Cosmos (the Dips lost, 3-2, in a shootout) when I went in for a 7 1/2-minute overtime session. But I could understand Gordon's thinking. Go hard for a few minutes and maybe pop up and get a quick goal."

Cannell started and played all 90 minutes against a makeshift Fort Lauderdale squad. He played only because regular Sonny Askew was honoring the NASL Player's Association strike.

Bradley said Cannell looked much sharper this week and may get his chance to start before the home fans.

"I think Paul smells it now, he wants to play," Bradley said. "I'll talk to him today following practice and decide then. We've gone to him a lot this week and he's worked with the starting unit."

Last year Cannell scored 14 goals and was credited with seven assists for a total of 35 points, a single-season mark for a Diplomat. He is excellent scoring on high balls and Washington has been hurting in that department.

"I guess it's up to Gordon to make the decision," Cannell said. "I'm ready to play. If I'm fit enough to be a sub, I'm fit enough to start. I know when I do play, I'll score some goals. CAPTION: Picture, Paul Cannell