A 2-1 loss to the California Surf on Steve Davis' overtime penalty kick Staurday night left Washington Diplomats Coach Gordon Bradley near speechless, and searching not only for answers, but also for justice.
In addition, his club slipped further behind the Cosmos, who picked up six more points in the race for the Eastern Division title.
The Diplomats (16-8, 142 points) trail the Cosmos (18-6, 162 points), who defeated Philadelphia Saturday night, 1-0.
"It was just diabolical," said Bradley, who came up with reasons after reasons for the Diplomat loss. "The California Surf definitely did not win this game tonight; we lost it."
To be more precise, the Dips, who still held a 1-0 lead with three minutes remaining in the game, failed to put it away when they had the chance. Or rather, changes.
"Without a doubt," continued Bradley, "we should have scored six to eight goals against the Surf. My God, just 30 seconds into the game we should have had one (when Alan Green missed an open net from seven yards out).
"We didn't play as strong a game as we did against Vancouver last week, but at times I thought we played very, very well. We just couldn't put it in the net. It seemed like everyone was holding onto e ball too long before shooting."
Indeed, Green, Sonny Askew, who scored the lone Dips' goal, and midfielder Joe Horvath all were guilty of failing to convert decent scoring opportunities.
Just minutes after scoring his goal, Askew, the third-year pro from Baltimore, again found himself alone with the ball in front of the Surf goal. But the young midfielder hesitated, losing the chance for his first two-goal game in the NASL.
But the most critical play of the night had to be the awarding of the penalty kick. Laurie Abrahams, a recent acquisition of the Surf who has six goals in his first five games, briefly encountered Diplomat defender Bob Iarusci two yards from the goal line just inside the penalty area.
Abrahams abruptly whirled, kicked his heels in the air, and landed dramatically on his face with a thud. The referee, who was clear across the field, ran 20 yards to the penalty kick spot and stopped+.
"How can he award a penalty kick like that?" asked Bradley. "Here we had two good teams slugging it out all the way, and suddenly he calls a penalty kick on a play a yard off the goal line and 20 yards out. There was no way Abrahams was going to score from out there."
Also adding to Bardley's problems Saturday night was a slow official clock. The clock in soccer should be stopped only in dire emergencies and only by the referee. But on Saturday, the referee waived his final say on the time in favor of the discretion of the timekeeper on the sidelines.
In Bradley's estimation, the clock was stopped erroneously for more than three minutes. Hence, Askew's goal would have lasted.
"It was just diabolical," repeated Bradley. "It seems just one game every year, no matter what you try, or no matter how well you appear to be playing in the end, it all comes up useless. Tonight it was our turn to have that game."