Paul Cannell, the flamboyant and sometimes controversial striker, will attempt to inject his own fire and flair into the Washington Diplomats' roller-coaster offense when he starts today against the undefeated Tulsa Roughnecks (4-0) at RFK Stadium at 2:30.

The North American Soccer League match can be heard on WTOP-1500. The station will break away for the Bullets' game at 3:45 but give updates of the soccer game every five minutes thereafter.

Cannell, who underwent leg surgery in February, said he was completely recovered a couple of weeks ago but has played only 97 1/2 minutes, 90 against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers during the NASL Players Association strike.

The club's single-season record holder (35 points last year) had begun to express some dissatisfaction.

"I'm ready to go now," said Cannell, following yesterday's workout at RFK. "I practice as much as I can to get ready. The only way I can get completely fit is to play."

Washington Coach Gordon Bradley said he had held Cannell out because the Diplomats' offense had been playing well without him and Cannell had not been very sharp in practice.

"I'm going to start him today," said Bradley. "He's worked hard this week and he's showing he wants it now.

"He's been off nine months and that's a long time. He'll probably get a little tired today and I may have to take him out," said Bradley, "but he's psyched now and he's ready to play."

Bradley is hopeful Cannell's presence will pick up his team. Though they have outplayed all five of their opponents much of the time, the Dips have not shown a killer instinct.

They botched numerous opportunities in the Cosmos and Rochester games and eventually lost both in overtime. Washington's three victories came over Fort Lauderdale (twice) and a weak Atlanta team.

"We just need a bit of luck," said Diplomat forward Allan Green. "We played pretty well, we just haven't gotten any breaks. Paul may give the lads some confidence. He'll help me because I'm used to playing off the big striker."

Without the high-leaping 5-foot-11 Cannell in the middle, defenses have been able to slough off and force Washington to the outside. But Green, Bobby Stokes, Sonny Askew and midfielders Sakib Viteskic and Joe Horvath have applied enough pressure up front to make up for the absence of a legitimate striker.

The Roughnecks, the NASL leading goal-scoring team with 15, also have been decent in the back. Goalkeeper Colin Boulton anchors the defense which has allowed only eight goals. Boulton has been forced to make only a total of seven saves in 346 minutes.

"We've played well up to now," said Roughneck Coach Alan Hinton, who established a NASL record of 30 assists while playing for Vancouver last year. "But we haven't played a team at tough as Washington. We won't be able to be as offensive minded as usual."

Bradley also will have to make a decison today on Viteskic and midfielder Jim Steele. Both are limping from leg injuries and their status for the match is questionable.

"We'll work out a little this morning and see what's what," said Bradley. "If they can't play, I'll probably start Rene Breevoort and Askew with Horvath. I feel confident with that lineup."

Washington has defeated Tulsa (formerely Team Hawaii) four times in their five meetings.... Roughneck midfielder Wayne Hughes, who pulled off a hat trick (three goals) in his 3-2 victory over Dallas last week, leads the league with 12 points. Teammate Alan Woodward and the Dips' Horvath each have 10.