The Washington Diplomats, who began the season with a good deal of promise but have only a 2-3 record thus far, held a team meeting this week in hopes of charging up their lethargic offense.
According to wingers Bobby Stokes and Alan Green, the meeting was "necessary to straighten out a few small problems."
One of those problems concerns Johan Cruyff, whose presence has not generated the expected added punch in the Diplomat attack. In fact, the Diplomats were never flatter than in their 1-0 loss at Toronto Sunday.
"We played together last year," said Stokes. "Instead of us trying so hard to adapt to Johan, maybe he should try to adjust to us more. When he played against us last year, he was magnificent. If he worked with us the way he worked against us, Alan would have six goals, I would have two and Johan would have two himself."
Like Stokes, Cruyff has yet to score a goal. He has taken 16 shots. Cruyff does have three assists, one more than Stokes.
Since the team meeting, the Dips have worked on getting Green and Stokes more involved in the offense and both players say the offense should be smoother when the Dips host California (3-3) Sunday at RFK at 5 p.m.
"These next two games are very important to us," Stokes said. "We can't lose all of our road games and expect to win each one at home."
Several players say the problem stems from the lack or a "true" center-forward or striker. Other players say they are having difficulties adjusting to Cruyff. Still others say Coach Gordon Bradley's alignment of two forwards, four midfielders and four defenders isn't working.
"I don't like the two-man (forwards) system," said Green, who leads Washington in scoring with four goals. "I prefer a striker in the middle. Right now, we're struggling there.
"Stokes and I are short and we don't get up high enough to head any balls," Green said. "We have to get the ball at our feet where we can work. And we have to get the ball early. That's what we discussed in the meeting."
Both Strokes and Green are just a shade over 5 feet 7 and those high crossing passes that sail across the middle are usually picked up by taller defenders. Without the presence of a tall striker who can jump and head, Washington has been forced to rely on the quick feet of Green and Stokes in the box.
"That's where our strength is," said Stokes, regarded as one of Washington's best all-around players. "Alan has four goals, but if you check the statistics, you can see he hasn't gotten many chances. We're just not getting the ball where we can do anything."
Green averaged six shots a game last year. Stokes, Paul Cannell (traded to Memphis), Joe Horvath and Sonny Askew also got their share of attempts to take much of the pressure off Green.
After five games this year, Green, has attempted 22 shots. But Stokes, who scored eight goals last year, has not scored a goal in nine attempts. In the first two games this season, Stokes only had one shot on goal.
"I'm worried to death about not scoring," said Stokes, a four-year veteran. "I've never went this long without a goal. People may see that and think I'm not doing my job.
"Right now, these are little problems but they can become big problems. Sure, we miss the man in the middle but we played with two up front part of last year and didn't have problems getting the ball," Stokes continued. "We aren't getting the ball early enough. The midfielders are bringing the ball up too far. When we get it, we aren't in position to shoot. b
"But we're not looking for excuses why we aren't scoring goals; we're looking for reasons.
Stokes, also a fine defensive player, often leaves his spot on the front line to drop back on defense when the Dips' attack begins to break down.
"Some of our players are not inclined to get back so I do at times," said Stokes.
While Bradley is concerned about Stokes' lack of production on offense, he appreciates his willingness to help.
Bradley defended his two-forward, four-mid fielder system. "Our players have to adapt to the offense. Although we're not scoring goals in the air, we're still capable of scoring if we get the people in the box," he said. "We are building and not finishing. We know people have different philosophies and we are having a little problem blending right now."