The Washington Diplomats flew home from Minnisota yesterday, disappointed by Saturday night's 3-1 loss to the Kicks but brimming with confidence after a 2-1 western road trip.
The Dips (14-7), have a week off before they take on the Seattle Sounders Sunday at RFK Stadium. That rest should give them a chance to get defenders Mike Dillion and Don Droege and midfielder Sakib Viteskic, all of whom missed the road trip with injuries, back in the lineup.
In the meantime, Coach Gordon Bradley once again is faced with the question of what to do with Ken Mokgojoa. The fleet South African came off the bench in the second half Saturday, scored the Dips' goal (his fourth of the year) and was easily the team's best player.
Bradley has used Mokgojoa as a substitute, putting him in the lineup when the team is dragging, for most of Mokgojoa's Two years with the club. That role is not one relished by the winger and has left outsiders baffled because Mokgojoa's skills are equal to those of anyone on the Washington roster.
"mokgojoa unbelievable," said Minnesota's Richardo Alonso, in his broken English, after Saturday's game. "Coach loco if he not play him more."
No one in the Washington organization is about to accuse Bradley of being loco at the moment. The Diplomats, in spite of the league's longest injury list, have the fifth-best record in the league and are anchored in second place in the National Conference East with 124 points.
Bradley was lavish in his praise of Mokgojoa Saturday, calling his play "brilliant," but wasn't about to commit himself to giving the 24-year-old winger more playing time. "I haven't even thought about next week's lineup," he said. "I'm still thinking about tonight."
"if Kenneth were a little more consistent there wouldn't be any question about him being in the lineup," one team official said. "but you never know what he's going to do, score two goals or give two up."
In addition, Bradley feels that Sonny Askew, only 22, hasn't been given enough credit for his work at madfield. Bradley thinks Asdew can be the Dips' first top American player and wants him in the lineup. What's more, Askew can play midfield and Bradley prefers to play with four midfielders and only two forwards -- Paul Cannell and Alan Green.
Thus, at least for the moment, Mokgojoa and those on the team who think he should be playing, must be content to watch him come off the bench. "I want to play as much as possible," Mokgojoa said softly. "I just do what I can whenever I get a chance to get in."
Two Diplomats who will not get in on Sunday are captain Jim Steele and Rene Brevoort. Both have passed the 20-points mark in penalties and must sit out one home game. Although Bradley could opt to make those different games he will rest Steele's sore knees Sunday and expects to have Droege back to replace Brevoort on defense.
The Diplomats will play four of their next six games at home and although it is unlikely they can catch the Cosmos (16-4 for 143 points), the stretch will be very important in terms of jockeying for playoff position. The Diplomats are tightly bunched with Vancouver and Los Angeles for third place in points in the National Conference.
"as long as we stay healthy we'll do well," Cannell said confidently. "Look how we've lost games, give-away goals, missing people with injuries. We've beaten ourselves.
"now, if we have everyone back we'll stop that. We can beat any team in this league. I think we proved that to ourselves on this trip. At home, we shouldn't lose."
Bob Stetler was back in uniform as backup goalkeeper Saturday night as the trading deadline passed with the Diplomats unable to fulfill his request for a trade. A waiver dal is still possible . . . The crowd of 26,575 in Minnesota was the largest the Dips have played in front of this season . . . If dillion's left knee strain keeps him out against Seattle, Ane Mihailovich, who played for Steele in the second half Saturday, will get a start.