Johan Cruyff showed his talent and versatility yesterday at RFK Stadium and they proved to be just enough to earn the Los Angeles Aztecs a 2-1 victory over the Washington Diplomats in a game watched by a season-high crowd of 26,924 fans.
The Dips, obviously trying to please the big crowd and a national television audience (blacked out in Washington) that wanted to see Cruyff, pressed early only to see two shots - one by Alan Green and one by Joe Horvath - hit the post in the first six minutes.
"I looked at Greenie after the first one and said, "Oh, no, here we go again,"" said Paul Cannell. "It just seemed like we could get the ball everywhere but in."
For Washington's strikers, Green and Cannell, it was another frustrating afternoon as Green went a seventh straight game without a goal and Cannell a fourth. Only Sonny Askew's seventh goal of the season with 6:43 left prevented a Los Angeles shutout. As a result, the Dips dropped to 17:9 for the year for 151 points while Los Angeles climbed to 15-11 for 135 points.
As it turned out, the muggy, drizzly day could have been labeled "Johan Cruyff Day," because that's what it was from the start.
The Dutch superstar was in control of the game almost from the beginning, setting up both of his team's goals in the first half, then retreating to sweeper-back in the second half when Aztec Coach Rinus Michels opted to lay back with a two-goal lead.
"You can't mark Cruyff," said his countryman, Rene Breevoort, who tried unsuccessfully to cover the Dutchman in the first half."If you take one thing away from him, he'll do something else to you. He's running the whole show out there. He's like a director of an orchestra."
Cruyff was doing his directing act when the Aztecs got their first goal. The Dips let up noticeably after Green and Horvath just missed and the Aztecs took the momentum.
They had a free kick 40 yards from the net and Cruyff, who takes all his team's free kicks and corner kicks, lofted a pass over the Washington defense. Walter Wagner took the pass and blasted a shot off the crossbar.
The rebound came to the Dips' Don Droege, who tried unsuccessfully to clear. Instead, the ball ended up on the foot of Thomas Rongen. His shot on goal bounced off the arm of goalie Bill Irwin. Rongen got the rebound and his second shot beat the sprawling Irwin from five yards at 10:46.
"It was just one of those days," said Dip Coach Gordon Bradley, who saw his team's dim hopes for catching the Cosmos in the National League East fade to virtually zero.
"We sagged a little after we hit the woodwork (posts) twice. We thought we should have been ahead, 2-0, then we had a lapse and we were down, 1-0. It was uphill from there."
The hill turned into a mountain 15 minutes later and again Cruyff was the catalyst. This time he broke down the left side off a scramble for the ball, and, as the defense came to meet him, slid a pass to Leo Van Veen.
Van Veen's 22-yard shot beat Irwin to his right at 25:14 as the goalie, apparently fooled by the floating shot, moved late. $&(WORD ILLEGIBLE
" we gave up two foolish goals," said Cannell. "We just didn't play a smart tactical game in the first half. We didn't do a good job on Cruyff. Then in the second half they just sat back on us."
Leading, 2-0, at halftime, Los Angeles Coach Michels decided to abandon his offense and just try to hold on to his lead. He shifted Cruyff back and bunched 10 of his 11 players inside the penalty box.
"We were tired from the heat and from playing in Rochester Friday night," said Michels when he finally opened his locker room door more than 20 minutes after game's end. "And when two of my defenders got hurt I needed Johan in the back anyway."
Cruyff, who took four stitches for a gash he received in the first half, echoed his coach's words. "We were all tired," he said. "I know I am not used to this kind of humidity and I felt weak after the first half."
With the Aztecs playing back, the Dips spent the second half on the attack but were frequently frustrated by the Los Angeles defense, goalie Colin Boulton, and, for a third time, the goalpost, which caught Askew's shot from 25 yards out with 37 minutes left.
"I thought they let us back in the game by playing that way," said midfielder Horvath, speaking through his Hungarian interpreter. "We were on attack the whole second half but we needed to score the first goal earlier than we did."
The Dips finally got their goal when Askew dribbled past one defender and took an angled 10-yard shot. The 22-year-old American didn't catch the ball solidly but it rolled past Boulton's diving reach and suddenly, the dormant Dips had a chance.
From that point on they were in Los Angeles territory almost nonstop. But Askew's 25-yard shot which flew wide right was the best chance they got to tie.
"It was a long afternoon and their tactics in the second half made it longer," said Bradley. "I understand why Michels did what he did but I think we're a better team than they are. I hope we play them in the playoffs."
The Dips and Aztecs are likely to meet in the first round of the playoffs. Yesterday the team was already talking about the possibility.
"I hope I can break out of this slump by then," said Green. "I knew I was going to get a couple today. I seem to hit everything in the park but between the posts. I'm so frustrated I don't even want a drink when I get home. But I know we can beat this team."
Cannell - as always - was more emphatic. "I would love to play them," he said. "I'd bet all my wages that we'd beat them."
But not yesterday. It was a day for Cruyff to control the game, offensively and defensively long enough to leave the Dips shaking their heads over their inability to win for the big crowd.
"There is a way to stop Cruyff," Breevoort insisted.
"You break his leg." CAPTION: Downs And Ups for Cruyff; Picture 1, Johan Cruyff is tackled by Jim Steele of the Diplomats; Picture 2, The Aztec superstar directs his teammates prior to Diplomat corner kick.by Richard Darcey - The Washington Post