Washington Diplomat midfielder Sonny Askew, off to the best start in his four-year NASL career, is upset and puzzled about his recent demotion to the bench.

"I don't understand this at all," said Askew, who is tied for second on the team in scoring with seven points. "I thought I was playing well. It would be different if I had done something wrong or if someone was playing that much better than I was. That is not the case here; at least in my opinion, it isn't."

Askew appears to be a victim of circumstances. Washington, having problems on offense, needed to make a change. Midfielder Johan Cruyff had complained that Coach Gordon Bradley didn't have the right combination of players in the midfield, thus causing many of the problems offensively.

Bradley, also unhappy over his team's poor start, decided to bench Askew in favor of Carmine Marcantonio, considered a better defensive player, for the game in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Saturday night, a 2-1 defeat.

"I thought we played our best game of the year," Bradley said following yesterday's practice."I moved Johan in the middle and he and (Juan Jose) Lozano worked well together. We didn't win but I saw much improvement.

"As for Sonny, he has played well and it's only natural for him to be upset. But he's not as upset as we are about our 3-5 record. Sonny is a professional and will have many more disappointments in his life."

Askew said he felt his defense was not bad enough to warrant his demotion.

"I get back as fast as anyone," said the former all-America from Essex Community College in Baltimore. "Sure, I've had a few bad moments this year but nothing that bad that I should have been taken out of the lineup. But we're losing and I guess a change was needed. I'm upset I had to be the change."

Several teammates also questioned the move.

"Sonny is just a victim," said one player. "He's played good all year and hasn't done anything to merit his being benched. The coach may have taken out the wrong man. Bobby (Stokes) hasn't done any scoring for us yet and maybe he should have been the one to sit down. Sonny could move up front."

Bradley said he is thinking about replacing Stokes up front with Lozano and starting Joe Horvath at midfield.

"I think Bobby may have lost a bit of his confidence and there is a possibility I may rest Bobby awhile," Bradley said. "I'll have to wait and see. Lozano played a great game against the Strikers and I could move him up front with Alan (Green) with no problem."

Stokes, considered one of the teams's more versatile players, has been starting up front with Green. Green leads the team in scoring with seven goals and one assist for 15 points, whilw Stokes has yet to score, although he has contributed three assists.

Cruyff also has not scored but the $1 million Dutch player often has been brilliant in running the offense and has four assists.

"I have to admit the new lineup looked good against Fort Lauderdale," said a Dip player. "In time, we'll see if the change was a good one."

Askew was the hero in Washington's home opening 3-1 victory over Philadelphia, scoring two goals. In two other games, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Baltimore native hustled back to cover an open net and made two saves.

He has been bothered with a sore toe on his right foot but dismisses that as a reason for being benched.

"My toe is fine. At least, I can play on it," Askew said. I played about four minutes (3:26) in the Fort Lauderdale game. We were losing and we had to have more offensive players on the field. I guess I was counted on to perform a miracle or something. This really bothers me, but I'll keep putting out and doing the best I can."

Askew, who now appears to be the odd man out, says he doesn't think he will start Saturday in Atlanta and doesn't know exactly what to do to get back into the starting lineup.

"I'm pretty puzzled. I feel like everything has been taken away from me," he said. "I could adjust to playing striker again. I just want to play. This just doesn't sit too well with me at all."

Washington holds a 2-1 series edge over the Chiefs, who they will meet Saturday in Atlanta.The chiefs (2-7) have lost six consecutive games . . . Dip defender Robert Iarusci will make his 100th NASL appearance in that game.