Tommy O'Hara's heroics turned into disaster tonight for the Washington Diplomats.

The veteran Washington defender made a head save of a San Diego shot early in the second half only to have a rebound hit his hand to give the Sockers a penalty shot.

Midfielder Leonardo Cuellar converted 10:16 into the second half and the Sockers were on their way to a 2-0 NASL victory before 10,251 fans at San Diego Stadium.

"The ball was crossed and kicked toward the goal," said O'Hara, the only Diplomat to have played every minute of every game this season. "I dove to clear it with my head and I was in the process of getting up when the ball (kicked by midfielder Peter O'Sullivan) came right back to me and hit my hand.

"Technically it's not a foul. The ball played my hand. My hand didn't play the ball."

Cuellar beat the Dip's rookie goalie, Dragan Radovich, to the goalie's right.

"I guessed right on the shot, but when the penalty kick is low, it's hard to stop," explained Radovich, who was credited with five saves in his second starting assignment.

"If I'd cheated (gone to his right before the kick) I might have gotten it. It's funny but I was great on penalty kicks in college. I must have stopped 70 or 80 percent of them."

Although Radovich failed to stop Cuellar's kick, it was his defensive work, along with that of defender Nick Mijatovich, that had held the Sockers to a scoreless tie in the first half. The Dips were outshot, 10-6, in the first half and 22-10 in the game.

And in the first 13 minutes of play, the Diplomats failed to get a shot on goal, while the Sockers had eight chances, two off corner kicks. All were broken off by Dip defensive stars.

"We played conservatively," noted Dip Coach Gordon Bradley, whose team fell to 8-12 and into last place in the National Conference's Eastern Division. "We wanted to play a game of counterattacks. One goal was going to win it."

San Diego did score again, forward Jean Willrich finding the goal with just 30 seconds to play, while the Dips pressed for a tie.

"We managed to keep the Sockers from scoring early," Bradley said. "It could have been 3-0. But we came on and had our chances. Their second goal meant nothing. They scored while we had our defenders up field trying to get the tying goal."

The Diplomats, who wind up their Western road swing 0-3 and now move on to Foxboro, Mass., for a Saturrday afternoon game against the Tea Men, nearly scored 31 minutes into the first half.

Forward Tony Crescitelli took a pass from Sakib Viteskic inside the box and took a weak shot on Socker goalie Volkmar Gross.

Gross made the shot but Crescitelli appeared to get the rebound and score. But referee Dante Maglio ruled Crescitelli had created a dangerous play in kicking the ball away from Gross. c

"I have no complaints on the call," Bradley said. "I didn't see all of the play, but he couldn't have allowed the goal if Tony kicked the ball out of the goalie's hands. He had to make that call."

Aside from Crescitelli's goal bids -- he took four shots -- Washington's best chances came in the final minute when Gross first made a leaping save of Gary Darrell's shot and seconds later came flying out of goal to punch away O'Hara's 20-yard smash.

Willrich followed with his fifth goal to clinch the victory. Cuellar's tally was his fifth and upped his team-leading point total to 20 on a team which has scored only 25 goals in 20 games.

San Diego had hoped to use Mexican star Hugo Sanchez, who recently completed his Mexican season. But NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam ruled prior to the game that Sanchez cannot play until his papers from Mexico are in order.

The Diplomats again played without their top stars -- Johan Cruyff, Wim Jensen, Joe Horvath, Lozano and Ken Mokgojoa -- all back home injured. Additionally, Mijatovic reinjured his left hamstring and was replaced early in the second half.