The rash of injuries that crippled the Washington Diplomats last year is beginning to resurface and Coach Gordon Bradley said yesterday he is becoming concerned.
"If it gets any worse, I'll really begin to worry," Bradley said. "We were hurt pretty bad last year and paid the price. This year we do have much more depht, but we have five key players injured. Most clubs may have two or three players hurt at this stage of the season. We have more than we should have."
Bradley had six players on the injured list before midfielder Joe Horvath, generally regarded as the Dips' best overall player, was kicked in the left Achilles' tendon in the second half of Sunday's 2-0 win over Tulsa. Horvath's leg will be score a couple of days, according to Bradley, and he is questionable for Sunday's home game against the Dallas Tornado.
"A few guys are playing at less than 100 percent," Bradley said. "But we don't rely on any one person to win for us. A few guys had off days against the Roughnecks and we still came through. That speaks well for the team."
Sakib Viteskic (knee strain) sat out the Tulsa game while fellow midfielder Jim Steele (knee strain) had to be replaced late in the match. Other players ailing include defender Ane Mihailovich (ankle sprain), winger Mike Bakic (right Achilles) and defender Tommy O'Hara (shoulder and instep bruises).
"Tommy has been playing with his injuries without complaining," Bradley said. "His foot is so sore he has trouble kicking the ball."
O'Hara, who has four assists from his left fullbact spot, was selected as the North American Soccer League defensive player of the week by the Soccer Writers Association for his part in holding the Tulsa Roughnecks to four shots Sunday.
Midfielder Gary Darrell recently underwent an operation for repair of a torn cartilage in his right knee and will be out six to eight weeks.
"Fortunately, we have good players standing by itching to play," said Bradley, who still has nightmares about the Dips' seven straight losses to close out the 1978 season. "But we still have to get our key people healthy. A few other guys also have various knocks here and there.
"Washington, 4-2 with 36 points, needed a victory Sunday, to keep pace with the undefeated Cosmos (5-0, 44 points) in their battle for first place in the National Conference's Eastern Division.
"It was not a pressure game but a loss would have left us at 3-3," said Bradley. "And we have already played four home games.
"In this league, you have to win your home games. Somewhere down the road, we would have looked back and remembered a home game loss."
The Diplomats, showing much more patience and ball control than in the past, have been especially dominant on offense. They outshot Tulsa, 19-4, the sixth straight game they have outshot their opponents. Washington has reeled off 130 shots compared with opponents' 67.
Bradley's defensive unit, anchored by O'Hara and goalie Bill Irwin, also has played extremely well. The Dips have surrendered only five goals, two off deflections. Irwin has been forced to make 21 saves, only one against Tulsa, in the six games.
Steele, beginning to assert himself as the center midfielder after a shaky start, was a bit perturbed when he was replaced. But he said yesterday he understood why.
"We were winning so I could understand Gordon's thinking," said Steele, who has four yellow cards (cautions) and is one card away from a one-game suspension. "As for Tulsa not doing anything on offense, I'd liked to think our defense had something to do with that. There aren't many teams who are going to beat us at home."