Despite the Washington area's failure to support the team, the Diplomats are slowly convincing North American Soccer League foes they are a team to be reckoned with.

Following Wednesday night's impressive 4-1 thrashing of Memphis, the Rogues' Interim coach, Charlie Cooke, said the Dips were "about the best team we've faced all year."

Other league coaches are singing the same tune after leaving the field battered, bruised and saddled with a loss.

"They have an excellent team. Coach (Gordon) Bradley has done a very good job putting them together," said Dallas Coach Al Miller, whose team lost to the Dips, 2-1, two weeks ago.

"They're very intense and just keep coming," Tulsa Coach Alan Hinton said following his team's four-shot performance in a 2-0 loss recently. "Washington concentrates and works hard at both ends. They want the games."

The Dips, 7-2 and tied with the defending league-champion Cosmos for first place in the National Conference's Eastern Divsion with 62 points, also want fans. Many of the players claim that playing before thousands of empty seats has no effect on their play, although there's little doubt that 30,000 or so cheering soccer crazies in RFK Stadium would enhance their performances.

"You sort of get used to no people watching," Diplomat defender Mike Dillon said. "You know before the game the same 6,000-7,000 are coming out. But you're a pro and you tune the people out when you play, anyway.

"We're certainly playing good enough soccer for people to come out and see. Right out, we're playing real well," Dillon said. "But then I'm not sure winning is everything. We're not the Redskins and don't have a big personality like a Joe Theismann to relate to. We still have to develop some personalities here."

The Dips are doing their part as far as performance is concerned. They have won four straight games, are first in the NASL in goals scored with 25 (four more than the Cosmos) and seventh in defense, having allowed just 11 goals.

Washington has outshot its nine opponents by a total of 188-113. Only one team, Philadelphia, has attempted more shots than Washington.

Those statistics are especially impressive, since Paul Cannell and Kenny Mokgojoa, the Dips' top two scorers last year, have played little.

Cannell missed the first three games while recovering from a leg operation and Mokgojoa joined the club later, after his South African team's season ended.

Cannell had just started to play well (three goals and two assists), but he suffered a hairline fracture of his cheekbone during practice this week and sat out the Wednesday night game.

Cannell, examined by a police surgeon yesterday morning, is expected to be back in the lineup for the next game, against New England, Wednesday night. No surgery will be needed.