The humidity hung over RFK Stadium like a blanket Friday afternoon as the Washington Diplomats dragged themselves onto the field to practice.
Having just returned from Seattle the previous day and with a game coming up against the Los Angeles Aztecs at 2:30 p.m. today at RFK Stadium, the players were not eager for one of Coach Gordon Bradley's workouts.
Out of the dugout darted Andries Maseko, apparently immune to the humidity. "Okay, okay," he chirped. "Watch me now. I am Johan Cruyff out there. You just watch, I am Cruyff."
Many of the players laughed or smiled as Maseko darted on the field, full of energy. At least temporarily, the tension every athlete feels just before a workout was broken as Maseko/Cruyff bounced around the field.
The Diplomats have been together, practicing, traveling and playing, since February. This is the time of the year when many players are tired, playing hurt or frustrated by lack of playing time.
As a result, the ability of players to get along with one another off the field becomes as important as their ability to function as a unit on the field. $&(WORD ILLEGIBLE $&)See DIPLOMATS, 37, Col. 1> $&(WORD ILLEGIBLE $&)DIPLOMATS, From E1>
The Diplomats, owners of a 17-8 record and 150 pounds going into today's game (L.A. is 14-11, 127 points), basically are a happy group, albeit one divided into a number of eliques.
"We hold a lot of meetings during the season, and at some of them all I talk about is the importance of getting along," Bradley said.
"We have players here of a number of different nationalities and it's important that they make an effort to understand each other."
The Dips have players from the United States, Canada, Yugoslavia and South Africa. All have different backgrounds and all were taught the game - and its rules - differently.
For example: the English players were taught that talking to one another on the field is as much a part of the game as a corner kick. In Yugoslavia and South Africa, however, talking on the field is all but illegal and any kind of obscenity usually results in ejection.
"I remember last year at halftime of a game, Kenneth Mokgojoa came up to me and said he did't want to play the second half," Bradley said. When I asked him why he said it was because Bobby always curses, that's one of his ways on communicating on the field. But I sent Bobby over to him to talk and everything was all right. Kenneth didn't understand that there was nothing personal in it. He had to get used to Bobby's ways."
Maseko and Stokes, known as "The Rat" among his teammates because he is small and always seems to be darting around on the field, are counted on by Bradley to loosen things up during long practices and on lengthy road trips.
"Bobby's the kind of guy who can make you laugh in any situation," trainer Steve Hornor said as he watched Friday's practice. "He loosens things up a lot out there. He's the funny guy, and Jimmy Steele's usually the holler guy."
Hornor, watching from the sidelines, probably hears more complaints than anyone, including Bradley. He knows who is upset about not playing, who is playing hurt and who is not playing even though basically unhurt.
"Winning makes the atmosphere a lot different," he said. "I mean there are guys who want to be playing. You expect that on any team. But when the team is going well, there's a lot less complaining around the locker room."
The club's field leader is Steele, who became the team captain this season when Gary Darrell was lost because of two knee operations. Steele is the man Bradley looks to for help in keeping the team from getting sluggish during a workout.
"Hornor said Steele always has "the mouth going. When he's not here (Friday when Steele was home with the flu) sometimes the guys will start dragging."
Friday was on of those days. It was obvious the players had no desire to be on the practice field in the muggy weather. Bradley kept them more than two hours looking for a spark. He and Joe Mallett, his assistant coach, were the most active men on the field, shouting encouragement, trying to get the players going.
"It's too damned hot," said Paul Cannell, sitting on a soccer ball with his head buried in his arms during a break. "Who needs this stuff. I just want to get out of the heat and get some rest."
Cannell and Steele are not known for resting among their teammates. They are known for partying. Both are well-known among the Georgetown set and Cannell's antics in various bars around town are almost legendary.
"But it doesn't mean that we don't take our playing very seriously," Cannell said. "You'll never catch me drunk the night before a game. The night after a game is different, but never before."
The drinking habits of Cannell and Steele - and the English members of the team in general - also must be explained by Bradley to Yugoslavs like Joe Horvath, Sakib Viteskic and Ane Mihailovich.
"In Yugoslavia the night before a game, all the players do is rest," said Bradley, and Englishman who is very familiar with drinking customs of his countrymen.
"When these guys see their teammates having a couple of beers before a game, they can't understand it. But as long as it's only a couple, I don't mind. Because I know with a lot of players if they don't have a couple of beers the night before a game, they won't sleep."
Bradley is not enamored of the partying he knows goes on, but he also accepts it - grudgingly.
"Certainly I don't approve when they go out and have too much to drink," he said, "but you have to accept players as they are...put up with what you don't like because of what you do like.
"And in the case of at least one of these guys (Cannell), you're never going to change him no matter what you do. So you accept them for what they are."
Even though the different nationalities stick with one another a lot, the practical jokes and the kidding are teamwide, although according to back-up goalkeeper Bob Stetler, what's funny to some people isn't funny to others.
"What you think is funny depends on who you are," said Stetler, one of the team's eight Americans. "An Yugoslavian sense of humor or a South African sense of humor."
American or not, though, Stetler couldn't suppress a grin when Maseko roared by yelling. "I'm Cruyff, I'm Cruyff."
As long as the Diplomats have soccer in common - and keep winning - their mixture of Europeans, Africans, and North Americans will find a way to understand one another.
Diplomat officials expect today's crowd to surpass 25,000 if the weather is nice. Advance sales reached 21,000 late yesterday.... Sakib Viteskic, out five weeks, is ready to play physically but not "match fit," according to Bradley. Rene Breevoort starts for him again today.... The Dips beat the Aztecs, 3-2, in overtime in Los Angeles June 30 on a goal by Sonny Askew.... The Aztecs are 9-9 since Cruyff joined the team.