The Washington Diplomats will try to forget the opening game of their playoff series and their internal bickering today when they face the Los Angeles Aztecs in a do-or-die game at RFK Stadium. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m.
The Dips were beaten soundly, 3-1, Wednesday night in the Rose Bowl in the opening contest of the NASL two-game playoff series. If the Dips win this afternoon, the team will immediately play a 30-minute minigame to determine the series winner.
To get into that minigame, which is not sudden death, and to win the series, Washington's players will have to forget the sniping and bickering that have taken place since they returned from the West Coast.
Coach Gordon Bradley called a team meeting yesterday to talk about those internal problems. "I tried to tell them that no matter how they feel about each other right now they have to pull together, not point fingers, and play the game, that the game is the most important thing," said Bradley. "I honestly believe they can do it if they want to."
Bradley insisted that the bickering between the players is relatively minor and not surprising for this time of the season.
"I'm surprised there isn't more dissent actually," he said. "There's a lot of tension now. The players all want the game to be right this instant, not tomorrow.They're nervous and tense because they know the whole season is riding on the outcome.
"I think after our meeting this morning things are okay. I think the players know what they have to do. I think we're going to win tomorrow because I think we're a much better team at home than on the road and we'll take the attack to them."
Bradley said he was more concerned yesterday with turning his team's attention to the Aztecs and their superstar-leader Johan Cruyff than with his team's internal problems.
"Our main concern has to be Cruyff," he said. "We can't stop him, but we have to control him. This game will be just the opposite of Wednesday, we'll be attacking from the start the way they attacked us then."
Bradley said he expected that if the Aztecs score the first goal Cruyff will move back to sweeper as he did on July 29 when L.A. took a 2-0 lead and held on for a 2-1 win at RFK.
"That won't happen, you won't see Cruyff at sweeper," Aztec Coach Rinus Michels insisted. "The only reason I did it last time is because I had two defenders injured.
"Cruyff is an attacker and an organizer, that's the way he's always played the game. I don't plan to take him out of that role unless I have no choice in the matter."
The Dips will again use Carmine Marcantonio to try and mark Cruyff, who completely dominated the game Wednesday. "It's like the ball is tied to his shoelaces," said Marcantonio. "Once he gets the ball and gets turned around on you, it's big trouble."
The Dips appeared confident during their brief workout yesterday, many of them talking about the minigame as if it were a given fact that they were going to win the regulation game. Washington was 12-3 at home during the regular season, and the Dips remain convinced that at home they can handle Los Angeles.
"I don't know why exactly, but we're a completely different team at home," said leading scorer Alan Green. "On the road if we get a goal down we seem to stop fighting. In RFK we're always attacking. And that's the way to play this game. You have to take the play to the other team."
Michels said he will start 6-foot-5 Hubert Smeets, who scored two goals, Wednesday, including the winning score, coming off the bench, up front with 6-3 Leo Van Veen. Thus, the Dips must be prepared for numerous high passes into the box to the tall forwards, who along with Cruyff are known as "The Royal Dutch Air Force."
Bradley is aware that Los Angeles, which has won five of its last six games, is playing its best soccer of the season. But he was still confident yesterday.
"We're too good a team to go out in the first round," he said. We've had too good a season for that.'
Dips are hoping for a crowd of 15,000 if weather is good today. Paul Cannell practiced yesterday for the first time in a week and will be available today.