Washington Diplomat Coach Gordon Bradley said yesterday he was "very optimistic" that midfielder Johan Cruyff would be able to start in Sunday's game against the San Jose Earthquakes at RFK Stadium.
"Johan worked out and looked much better," said Bradley, following yesterday's two-hour practice. "But that's a controlled situation so it's hard to tell how he would do in a game running full out. We consulted with the doctor and, after Saturday's workout, we'll make a decision. We hope he can play."
Cruyff suffered a badly pulled thigh muscle in his right leg in the second half of the Diplomats-Cosmos game June 1. The league's offensive player of the year in 1979 originally hurt the leg against Fort Lauderdale May 17. He sat out the Atlanta game the following week, then tried to come back against the Cosmos.
"I've never had an injury like this before so it's hard to tell what to do," said Cruyff. "It feels much better and I hope I can play. It depends on the doctor."
In Cruyff's absence, Washington (5-9) has lost three of five games. While the former Dutch star has yet to score in 24 shots, his leadership on the field is unquestioned.
"Obviously, we miss him," said Bradley. "Johan was just beginning to show flashes why he's still one of the greatest players in the world, when he reinjured his leg.
"He's obviously disappointed he hasn't scored because he's a goal scorer. He's been trying to help the other players on the field and his game has suffered some. Once he scores his first one, he'll be an inspiration to the rest of the players."
Diplomat winger Ken Mokgojoa will be released from George Washington University Hospital today. The reserve winger was kicked in the left calf last week and it was feared he had suffered either a broken leg or blood vessel. However, the diagnosis was a slight obstruction of an artery.
Heat packs reduced the swelling and Dr. Carl MacCartee said Mokgojoa could probably resume workouts in a week to 10 days.
Midfielder Carmine Marcantonio's pulled hamstring is still sore and he has been ruled out for Sunday. Rookie Steve Byrd, who has played well in his two previous starts, probably will play in Marcantonio's place again.
Bradley said Cruyff and his teammates had finally begun coming together on the field at the time the midfielder reinjured his leg.
"Cruyff played very well versus Fort Lauderdale and in the first half against the Cosmos," Bradley said. "He looked like his old self. The players work well with him. When Cruyff is on his game, he's unstoppable. I still say, for 10 yards, he still has the quickest step."
The Dips feel they can turn their season around in the next eight days. After the San Jose game, they meet Soccer Bowl champion Vancouver Wednesday, and Houston the following Sunday at RFK.
"We won a tough game in Rochester the other night, and we're ready to move now," Bradley said. "It would be a lot easier with Johan out there."