The confident, rolling Washington Diplomats became the stumbling, fumbling Washington Diplomats again today and the result was a 1-0 loss to the Toronto Blizzard before 18,193 frigid fans in the ice box known as Exhibition Stadium.
The weather, cold, windy and sometimes rainy, generally summed up the mood in the Washington locker room after the Diplomats had extended their lifetime record here to 0-6 (two goals, four shutouts).
"It was a stupid game," said defender Bob Iarusci. We lost it on a stupid goal."
No one was arguing. The only goal of this sloppy, poorly played match came at the 31:07 mark on a 16-yard shot by Ivan Lukacevic, who never should have had a chance to touch the ball.
The play started with midfielder Jomo Sono sending a shot towards Washington goalie Bill Irwin, who knocked it down but didn't control it. The ball squirted free onto the foot of defender Carmine Marcantonio, playing in front of family and friends in his home town.
"I got the ball on my foot and thought to just clear the ball out of the zone," said Marcantonio. "But when I heard someone call, 'Marco, Marco,' I thought it was Nick (Mijatovic), so I passed the ball over there. Then I saw what had happened . . ."
Marcantino had been tricked by Lukacevic, his teammate here in 1976. It was Lukacevic, not Mijatovic who had called for the ball. With Irwin scrambling to try and get back in the net Lukacevic fired a 16-yard shot at the net, guarded by Sonny Askew.
"I thought I had it when he shot it," said Askew. "But then it hit something and changed direction. I never had a chance after that."
The ball hit Irwin's knee as the goalie tried to scramble back into position. That created the deflection and the goal -- the only one of the game.
"On this kind of field under conditions like this the team that scores first is probably going to win," said a disconsolate Marcantanio. "It's just terrible."
The loss leaves the Dips 2-3 (21 points) on the season; all three losses on the road. Toronto is not 2-2 for the year, four points behind second place Washington in the National Conference East.
The Diplomats also lost an opportunity to move past the Cosmos (3-2, 27 points) who were defeated, 2-1, by the Tulsa Roughnecks Saturday night.
"We wanted a physical game because they have a lot of skilled players," said Toronto Coach Keith Eddy. "We got what we wanted. I thought we could have three or four goals with the chances we had."
Indeed. Before leaving the game in the 85th minute with an ankle injury, Lukacevic had three other golden opportunities to score. Once he hit the crossbar; once he hit the post and on a third occasion he shot wide with Irwin sprawled in front of the net.
Toronto's ability to control the tempo left Coach Gordon Bradley extremely distressed. "We didn't work hard enough the second half to get the equalizer," Bradley said. "Our team has to learn that this league isn't full of fields like RFK. We have to adjust to varying conditions. It wasn't a good game at all. We didn't show any enthusiasm. That's upsetting as much as anything is."
If Bradley was upset, Johan Cruyff was angry. "I better not say anything," said the Dutch star, who turned 33 on Friday. "Should we have won? Of course. Why didn't we? That's a long story. We didn't play a good game and we lost. Leave it at that."
Clearly, Washington was hurt badly by its complete inability to do anything in the air. Time and again the midfielder would send the ball in the air into the box. Strikers Alan Green and Bobby Stokes, 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-7, respectively, never had a chance against the taller Toronto defenders.
And on the rare occasion Washington did create a good chance, Toronto goalie Tony Chursky was equal to the challenge. Early in the second half he stopped a 10-yard blast by Green with a diving save. Midway through he deflected a Sonny Askew shot after Askew had taken a beautiful pass from Joe Horvath and fired from point blank range, seven yards out.
The Dips had one more genuine opportunity. It came with a minute left when Cryuff lofted a free kick into the penality area. Marcantonio's header was deflected by Chursky and Iarusci's rebound attempt went wide.
"It's psychological with this team," Iarusci said. "We see artificial turf and everyone says, 'Oh, no.' We have to dig more. A game like this one, like this one we lost in Tulsa, you have to win with guts. We're not doing that. We're not doing the extras. We're not adjusting like we should.
"You're not going to play beautiful soccer on this field, especially with that wind whipping around. So you have to play tougher soccer maybe. It's frustrating, especially when you give up a stupid goal. We have to stop doing that. Every week is like Christmas for the other team, we give away a goal. If we're going to be real contenders we have to stop doing those things."