Whatever they said about wanting to be traded, Paul Cannell and Jim Steele now take it all back.

More than once, the two Diplomats -- not to be confused with diplomats, as we shall see -- have said they want to be traded away from the soccer team that is trying to work its way into Washington's heart.

Not now. Not with another season over. Not after yesterday's 4-3 playoff defeat by the Los Angeles Aztecs. Not after both players did nice work at RFK in front of 14,802 customers, at least one of whom hung out a banner saying, "If Paul & Jimmy Leave, We Leave."

"I don't want to leave Washington, I love it here," said Cannell.

"People come up to me and say, 'Hey, you're not leaving, are you, Steelie?' " Steele said, "I hope not. I don't want to. I've said it a couple times, yes, but if I'm going to be honest, I'd want to stay."

What a player wants is not always what management wants, though, and Steele says he has read enough in the newspapers and heard enough from his bosses to suggest that it is likely either he or Cannell will be traded -- if not both.

"I can't see the two of us staying," says the defender who last year was named team captain by Coach Gordon Bradley. "They have to split us up.

"Now, I don't mean it would be impossible for both of us to stay. But I get the impression that they think it would be good for us to split up. Since we came here three seasons ago, we have been the best of buddies."

They also have been the best of the Diplomats. Cannell, a forward, held the team scoring record until this season. Steel was called "Secretary of Defense." By their work, and by their antics -- commenting on an official's decision, Cannell once dropped his shorts to knee level and bent over -- they became the Diplomats most familiar to the few thousand soccer buffs who found their way to RFK.

Cannell is a darkly handsome Englishman who moves as well with a discoing lady as with a bouncing soccer ball. He drinks, too, the scoundrel. The red-headed Scotsman, Steele, is stride for stride with Cannell in their dogged pursuit of the good life.

And, Cannell said yesterday, he is afraid the Diplomat front office may hold that against the two men.

"It is easy for them to say I have not played well because of 'my life style,' " Cannell said. "Well, that is so much malarkey. I haven't changed the way I live since I was 17. But you'll never see me drunk the night before a game, because soccer is first to me. I am a professional. I take soccer very, very seriously.

"You know, you cannot con the fans.

"And Steelie, he is my buddy, so, unfortunately, the way things have gone, it is easy for people to put us in the same boat, having the same life style."

"You know, you cannot con the fans.

"And Steelie, he is my buddy, so, unfortunately, the way things have gone, it is easy for people to put us in the same boat, having the same life style."

Leaving aside the matter of their professional abilities, for that is best judged by the coach, Bradley, and he is not speaking to that subject for the moment, it would be a public relations mistake for the Diplomats to lose the likes of Cannell and Steele.

They are box office. Because Bradley hasn't liked Cannell's work of late, the forward entered the game only as a substitute in the second half with Los Angeles leading 3-2. With Cannell, the Diplomat offense, which had been doing a great impression of 10 men sleepwalking, finally produced some shots on goal, gaining a 3-3 tie when Cannell assisted on a Mike Dillon score.

After surgery on his left leg in the offseason, Cannell never seemed to reach his 1978 physical form. He admits it, saying that only now -- at season's end -- does he feel close to that form. But yesterday, in a game the Diplomats had to win to keep the season going, Cannell seemed to be . . .

"Alive," said Steve Danzansky, the Diplomat president.

"We needed an injection and Paul gave it to us," Bradley said.

Steele is an aggressive defender bold enough to stand chin-to-chin in a shouting match yesterday with the world's greatest soccer player, Johan Cruyff. Making a tackle, Steele crashed into an Aztec's ankle. Cruyff thought it a cheap shot and, advancing on Steele, tapped his temple, as if to say Steele carried naught but air in his head.

"Cruyff is a superstar baby," said Steele, who in addition to his defensive work also assisted on a goal. "He's a world class crybaby."

Steele and Cannell said yesterday they are to meet next week with Danzansky, Bradley and General Manager John Carbray.

"I just bought a home in Alexandria, and I have no desire to leave," Cannell said. "The fans here are wonderful and I want to repay them. They have written me letters asking me not to leave and they have called and they have left notes on my car windshield. If the Cosmos wanted me to play for them, I'd rather stay here in Washington."

Steele said he is enrolling at George Mason University to take up coaching. He has a house in Columbia. "I'm not just a fly-by-night character," he said.

Bradley said he will meet soon with officials of Madison Square Garden, the team owner, and in two or three weeks he will let his players know his plans for them.