An hour before his Washington Diplomats took the field against the Atlanta Chiefs tonight, General Manager John Carbray was shaking his head.
"Don't ask me why," he said, "but I've got a bad feeling about this game."
Carbray's feeling was accurate. The Dips, lethargic from the start, were outplayed by the lowly Chiefs and lost a game they needed to win, 4-0, in front of 6,231 fans in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
The loss dropped the Dips to 19-10, good for 169 points with one regular season game left, against the Cosmos in the Meadowlands Sunday. The Dips are still battling Minnesota and Vancouver for the second-best record in the NASL National Conference. They started tonight three points ahead of the Kicks, who played at home against Detroit. Atlanta is 12-17 for 121 points.
The Dips' lost evening culminated when referee Marco Dorantes ejected striker Bobby Stokes at 60.02 for "abusive language." Ironically, when Dip Coach Gordon Bradley tried to argue with Dorantes after a controversial call in California three weeks ago, Dorantes indicated he spoke no English.
"That referee will not work another one of our games this season, I'll see to that," an infuriated Bradley said. "He's gone out of his way to intimidate our players. He was terrible."
But Bradley quickly admitted that Dorantes had nothing to do with the Dips' annihilation. "It was our longest evening of the year," he said. "We certainly weren't with it the first half. Atlanta just wanted to win it more than we did."
The Chiefs, who in spite of their record have scored four more goals than they have surrendered, got first-half goals from South African Jomo Sono and Louie Nanchoff. Both followed defensive mistakes by the Dips. The Chiefs added second-half scores by Jeff Bourne and Fred Periera, both in the last 10 minutes, after Stokes had been ejected.
"We played extremely well," said Chief Coach Dan Wood, who is fighting to save his job. "I thought our defense did a very good job bottling them up."
The statistics bore Wood out. The Dips were outshot, 22-14, but tested goalie Victor Nogueira only once. At the 75-minute mark Sonny Askew rifled a 10-yard bullet which Nogueira managed to bat away.
"We just didn't seem to have the incentive tonight," said defender Bob Iarusci, who came out after 32 minutes, suffering from the flu. "There wasn't a player out there who looked good. It was very disappointing for us."
Although Sono dribbled past three players to score the first goal at 20:26, Iarusci blamed himself. "Normally, would have cleared the ball easily but I was too slow off the mark. I just couldn't breathe out there."
Both teams had trouble breathing in the oppressive heat and humidity but, as Alan Green put it, "They were a yard faster than we were all night long."
The Dips were never really in the game as Atlanta dominated from the start. Sono's goal seemed to drive them deeper into their lethargy and # when Nanchoff beat Irwin with a rolling 10-yarder at 27:36, it was apparent that the Dips were not going to challenge on this night.
"Whenever we get one down on the road we don't seem to fight back like we do at home," said Green. "Against Toronto Sunday (Dips came back from 4-1 down to win 5-4), it seemed we never thought about giving up. Here, it was different."
The result was not the only thing distressing to Washington. Stokes' red card means he will join Jim Steele and Don Droege, already suspended for prior ejections, on the sidelines against the Cosmos.
Stokes made no bones about the fact that he used an obscenity when he thought Kenneth Mokgojoa had been fouled in the penalty box, but, according to Green, Dorantes had been cursing at Washington players all night.