Washington Diplomat Coach Gordon Bradley walked toward the door of his team's locker room in Pasadena's Rose Bowl Wednesday night, turned and saw several of his players still not dressed.
"Come on," he said grimly, "let's get going and get out of this place quickly."
Bradley's feelings were understandable. He had just watched the Los Angeles Aztecs outplay his team in a 3-1 loss in the first game of their opening round North American Soccer League playoff series.
He had also seen one of goalkeeper Bill Irwin's best games of the season wasted. And he had seen his captain, Jim Steele, storm off the field in a huff when he was taken out of the game.
Thus, facing a long plane trip home yesterday and a rematch Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in RFK Stadium with the season on the line, Bradley was not in a happy mood.
"I still think we're going to end up in the minigame before it's over," said Bradley. "But I don't want to make a big thing of that now because if we lose the second game, that's it . . . we're out."
The Dips have now lost three NASL playoff games in as many tries. To avoid being eliminated in the first round again, they must control the midfield better and, specifically, must find a way to control John Cruyff.
Cruyff dominated Wednesday night's game, sending his teammates in on Irwin on what seemed like at least a dozen occasions.
"Once he gets the ball, there's almost no way to stop him," said Carmine Marcantonio, who did his best to try and control the 32-year-old Dutchman who was a European and international star before joining the NASL. "You have to try and keep him off the ball. Once he's got it, he's so quick and has so much control, he's almost unstoppable."
In addition to the problems the Aztecs present, Bradley must be concerned about his club's mental attitude. When he substituted for Steele after Los Angeles went ahead, 2-1, with a little more than 11 minutes left, the fiery redhead stormed off the field in anger.
"I doubt if I'll play Sunday," Steele said after the game. "I just feel like I won't be started. I was amazed when Gordon took me out. Yes, my pride was hurt.
"But I don't want to say anything more because I don't want to get canned."
Bradley said he had not made a decision on whether Steele would start Sunday and tried to shrug off Steele's anger. "Heat of the moment," he said. "We'll all feel better in 24 hours."
Perhaps so, but team sources have already said that Steele and striker Paul Cannell, inseparable friends, both will be traded at season's end. Cannell did not play last night because of a pulled groin muscle but would have been on the bench even if healthy.
"What we have to do is forget we were ever out here," said defender Bob Iarusci, who has played on the last three NASL championship teams in Toronto and New York. "This is one game, that's all. We can still win this thing on our field."
Prior to the opening game, Los Angeles Coach Rinus Michels lambasted the Dips for being a "dirty team," a move most of the Diplomats saw merely as a ploy to psych his team up.
After his team's win, Michels stuck to that line. "The problem is they have a few players who have trouble distinguishing between playing good, aggressive soccer and playing the man rather than the ball.
"They have two or three players who play that way. The worst is No. 9 (Cannell)."
"He's just trying to get some favor with the referees," said Bradley with a shrug. "He's a shrewd coach."
A Steele foul on Cruyff earned him a yellow card that set up Hubert Smeets' winning goal but none of the Aztecs was in a critical mood after their win.
"I was not nearly as physical tonight as in the past with Washington," said Cruyff. "Now they've got a real problem, though. They've got to win to survive. They've got to take the risks. We'll play a tactical game."
And the Dips, according to their players, will play an attacking game. "We have to attack them more than we did out here," said Alan Green, who scored the Dips' only goal at 2:54 and saw it hold up until the 65:30 mark when Chris Dangerfield finally beat Irwin.