The Washington Diplomats, a woeful club on the road but a power at home, try to even their record today when they host the California Surf in NASL game at RFK Stadium at 5 p.m.
Washington (2-3) has scored seven goals at friendly RFK in dismantling Philadelphia, 3-1, and a good Dallas team, 4-2. But the Dips have been struggling on offense and have shown little consistency this year. In its 1-0 loss in Toronto last week, Washington outshot the Blizzard, 22-18, but never looked to be in the game.
The Dips have scored only three goals on the road.
Frustration is beginning to set in as several players have criticized Coach Gordon Bradley's two-forward, four midfielder system and the sometimes not-too-aggressive play of international star Johan Cruyff.
The NASL's offensive player of the year last season has yet to score a goal, although he has three assists. The Washington players have shown a tendency to wait for the midfielder to make miracle passes or shots.
"We're still going through an adjustment period," said Bradley, seeking his 100 career coaching victory. "The blend of Cruyff with the other players is taking a bit longer than I expected."
"We had a meeting this week to sort out a few things," Bradley continued. "As a result, we've had good practices this week. We just haven't been getting people in the box where they can score."
The Dips have outshot their five opponents, 91-80, but only a handful of those attempts have come following a smooth, coordinated attack.
Since both forwards, Alan Green and Bobby Stokes, are short and rarely score through the air (headers), defenses have played each of them one-on-one while using a sweeper to patrol the middle. Bradley has countered by sending centers Nick Mijatovic and Carmine Marcantonio up front on set plays to try to convert Cruyff's high, sometimes-perfect crossing passes on corner kicks.
"Defenses know we have no height up front so we use Nick, who is tall and good with his head," Bradley said. "Carmine is also good in the air, but we're still capable of scoring without being strong in the air."
Bradley and several players say a loss today would be difficult to take.
"You can bet your bottom dollar we'll lose at least one at home sometime along the way," said Stokes, who like Cruyff, is still looking for his first goal. "We can't expect to win all of them at home but the way things are going, we have to. We don't want to be 16-16. This game is very important to us."
California, in second place in the American Conference's Western Division with a 3-3 record and 30 points, will be no pushover. Unlike many teams on the road, the Surf plays attacking soccer and often leaves the back unprotected. In doing so, California has scored 14 goals, second highest in the league. But if allowed 11 goals, third highest in the NASL. h
"They've played some strange games," Bradley said. "They beat (Soccer Bowl champion) Vancouver in Vancouver, than lost at home to Seattle. But it doesn't matter who we're playing. It would be any of the 23 other teams. We have to put things together and get a win streak going."
Marcantonio, converted from midfield to defense because of injuries, will start at his natural position in place of Wim Jansen, who has a leg injury. Don Droege, who missed most of preseason training because of a foot injury and has been limping from a groin pull, gets his first start today at centerback. Joe Horvath, who has a knee strain, is listed as probable.