The Washington Diplomats purchased Dutch midfielder Thomas Rongen from the Los Angeles Aztecs in a straight cash deal today.
Rongen, 23, was trying to get a flight east tonight in order to play in the Diplomat's game Saturday against the New England Tea Men in Foxboro, Mass. (2:30 p.m., WWDC-1260). The game is the last of a four-game two-week road trip for Washington. The Diplomats lost the first three games on the West Coast.
The Dips acquired Rongen because they are rapidly running out of healthy players. Johann Cruyff is not here because of a pulled thigh muscle. He may return to action next week. Wim Jansen is also in Washington resting a pulled hamstring. He will be out at least another 10 days. Midfielders Joe Horvath and Juan Jose Lozano are both lost until mid-August at the earliest with knee and leg injuries.
Defender Nick Mijatovic, a stalwart in the Diplomats' middle all season, is questionable for the New England game with a pulled hamstring muscle in his left leg. If he cannot play, Carmine Marcantonio will move back to defense and Rongen will take his spot at midfield, should he arrive in time.
Coach Gordon Bradley was delighted with the purchase of Rongen.
"He's a good acquisition for us because he won't be just a stopgap," Bradley said. "He's a young player and he has good size (6 feet, 170 pounds) so he should be able to help us not only right now but in the future."
Bradley said he isn't through trying to deal and may acquire another player before Monday afternoon's trade deadline. The deadline, originally scheduled for Sunday, was extended because so many teams in the North American Soccer League are trying to make trades. Bradley said he is talking with other NASL teams and with teams in Europe and South America.
While their coach holed up in his room trying to reconstruct his hobbled team, the Diplomat players, exhausted by two weeks on the road and a Thursday coast-to-coast flight, sat bleary-eyed by the side of their hotel pool and in the coffee shop, trying to figure out why the season had gone wrong.
"I've never been through an experience like this in my life," said defender Bob Iarusci. "I've been with a lot of teams.I've played a lot of soccer. I've never seen anything like this. First we had problems getting along. Then we started to get along and half the team got hurt.
"I feel completely disoriented. I don't know what's going to happen next. I just keep sitting here wishing the season would start again and we could start from scratch and get things right.
"But you can't knock anybody right now. Everyone is playing their guts out. It's just that we haven't got any players left."
"If luck is what this game is about then we should be turning it around at any minute," said Alan Green, the team's leading scorer with 17 goals. "None of us has given up. We're just a little bit shellshocked."
Perhaps trainer Steve Hornor summed up the season best: "The next injury will be me," he said. "I'm just exhausted. I've had five broken bones in four years of working for this team and four of them have been the last six weeks."
With the present so dark, Bradley talked about the future. "I'm not an optimist, I'm a realist. And realistically, we're due to have things start going our way. If we can get reasonable healthy in the next few weeks, we can still finish second in our division," he said. "I've told the players that right now second place is what we should concentrate on. We're not that far away from it (the Diplomats are seven points behind Toronto), and if we finish second, we're in the playoffs. Once we get there, we might be able to put a very good team on the field."
Thanks to the NASL's generous playoff system, the Diplomats should make the playoffs, if they can get 11 men into uniform for their 12 remaining games. Currently, they have the ninth-best record in the 12-team National Conference. Eight teams from the conference will make the playoffs. The Dips, despite their problems, are one point out of a playoff spot right now. After the New England game, they will play seven of their last 11 games at home in RFK Stadium. That should assure them a spot in the playoffs.
The prospects for Saturday are not nearly as bright. The Tea Men are playing as well as any team in the league. They have won six straight games. The streak began with an overtime win over the Cosmos.
In addition, they have not played in a week, while the Dips have played three games in nine days. The Tea Men play in Schaefer Stadium, on artificial turf, a surface on which the Diplomats have won once in five games this season.
New England's best player is Portuguese veteran Keita, who has scored 10 goals in the 16 games he has played in this season. The Tea Men's goalkeeper, Keven (Cat) Keelan, is still going strong at 38. He has allowed just two goals in the last four games.
Defender Tommy O'Hara is the only Washington player to have played every minute of every game this season. He has played 28 consecutive games, dating back to last season . . . Because of injuries, the Dips have fielded the same lineup in three consecutive games only twice all season. . . . Green is third in the league in goals scored with 17. He has four assists and 38 points, three short of the club record he set last season. . . . Madison Square Garden Chairman Sonny Werblin and Bradley will meet Saturday morning to discuss the team's problems. . . . The Dips are 3-1 lifetime against the Tea Men.