Gordon Bradley, coach of the Washington Diplomats, yesterday described today's 2:30 p.m. North American Soccer League match against the lowly New England Tea Men at RFK Stadium as the "crossroad of the season."
"This is it," Bradley said. "Right now for us this is the most important game of the year.
"We're on the road the next three games against good teams. It'll be tough getting points against them. We definitely do not want to start the trip with two straight losses behind us."
After a 2-1 loss at Dallas last Saturday, the Dips are 8-3 with 72 points, eight points behind the Cosmos, who lead the National Conference's Eastern Division (9-2) and play host to Toronto today.
The Dips had their five-game winning streak snapped at Dallas.
"We didn't play very well down there," said Paul Cannell, who may start today at striker after missing the last two games with a fractured cheekbone. "We never do."
Despite New England's 4-9 record, including a 3-1 loss to Washington May 23, Bradley is a bit leery going into the contest.
"They have nothing to lose and will play us very tough," he said. "They don't like that field (Nickerson) or whatever it is they play on up there and they seem to do better away from home. They'll like our field.
"And they have good individuals. We can't afford to get over-confident against them."
The Tea Men are not the same high-scoring club they were in 1978, when they finished 19-11. Mike Flanagan, who scored 68 points last season, still is being detained by his English club, Charlton Athletic, which has refused to come to terms with New England. Without the flashy striker in the lineup, New England has scored only 11 goals in 13 games.
The Tea Men outshot the Dips, 24-18, in their first meeting, but they could not penetrate the Dip defense, anchored by goalkeeper Bill Irwin. Their lone goal came on a penalty kick by Keith Weller after a disputed hand-ball on defender Mike Dillon.
Led by quick forward Alan Green (nine goals, three assists) and midfielder Joe Horvath (five goals, seven assists), Washington is the leading goal-scoring team in the NASL, with 29. Washington also has outshot its opponents, 219-153.
Bradley is not particularly anxious to make any changes in his lineup, but he knows he must play Cannell. He is execellant on high balls and plays very well with Green adn Bobby Stokes.
If Cannell plays, Bradley probably will go back to a three-man front instead of the two-man wing attack backed by four midfielders.
"Paul will probably start," Bradley said. "He gives the team a big boost when he's in there, and we need the win."