It is getting monotonous.
Like an artist who has lost his touch, the Washington Diplomats keep painting the same picture game after game. Today, the effort was admirable, the play was generally good, and, as has been the case for much of this season, the result was a loss, this time to the New England Tea Men, 1-0, in front of 12,691 in Schaefer Stadium.
"I can't criticize the players out there because they're giving it everything they've got," said Coach Gordon Bradley. "But it just hasn't been enough."
The Dips lost today because New England's Tony Brown picked up a loose ball in the midfield area and slid an excellent pass to Keith Weller, sending him in one-on-one on Carmine Marcantonio. Weller faked Marcantonio out of postion, then drilled a 15-yard shot over the left shoulder of goalie Dragan Radovich.
It was at the 27:06 mark and was all the Tea Men needed to win their seventh straight game and raise their record to 12-10. The Diplomats are now 8-13 after losing all four games on this two-week road trip while managing only two goals.
"First it was the defense, now it's the offense," said defender Robert Iarusci. "I think you have to just look up and say it's the team. The team loses games."
The Diplomats were without their entire starting midfield -- Johan Cruyff, Wim Jansen, Juan Jose Losano, and Joe Horvath -- and their best defender, Nick Mijatovic. They had Sonny Askew available on the bench, but only in an emergency. Radovich started over Bill Irwin in goal, although Irwin is healthy again, because Bradley felt Radovich played well on the West Coast.
Radovich played well again, making several good saves. But he was out-played by Tea Men goalie Kevin (Cat) Keelan, 38.
Keelan made the save of the game five minutes into the sceond half on a Tony Crescitelli shot. The young American forward took a superb pass from Bobby Stokes, split two defenders and let go with a hard 12-yard shot. But Keelan, who had come out of his net to meet Crescitelli, got a hand on the ball with a dive to his right and deflected it wide.
"It was an instinct play," Keelan said. "I wanted to try and smother the shot but I got caught in the middle. I just dove and hoped."
Keelan made several other good saves and had excellent help from his back line, most notably Christ Turner. The big sweeper draped himself on Alan Green almost the entire 90 minutes, effectively bottling up the Diplomats' one consistent offensive threat.
"I have to give him credit," Green said. "He stuck well with me all day. I didn't come free more than once or twice."
If there was a bright spot for Washington, It was the play of newest member of the team, Thomas Rongen. Acquired Friday from Los Angeles, Rongen flew from there, arriving in Boston at 7:30 this morning.
He met with Bradley and his teammates, then played the entire 90 minutes. He played well, winning a number of loose balls and making several good runs.
Sonny Werblin, Madison Square Garden chairman, made a point of congratulating him after the game. Werblin rarely offers congratulations to anyone in defeat.
"I wore down the last 15 minutes," Rongen said. "I really haven't even had a chance to think about what's happened yet. Yesterday after the coach (Bradley) called me, I ran around, then ran to the airport. I can't sleep on airplanes so I just sat up all night. I'm ready for sleep now."
But Rongen's play could not obliterate the fact that this team lacks punch right now. Because of the injuries, Teams can afford to key on Green. When he is battled up, the Diplomats are shut down offensively.
"We were determined not to be beaten by Green," said Keelan. "If one of their other players scored, good for him. But we weren't going to give Green a free inch."
The Tea Men also seemed to catch a break from referee Paul Avis, 13 minutes into the second half.
Marcantonio and Weller got into a shoving match and Marcantonio elbowed Weller, probably a yellow card infraction. Weller responded by butting Marcantonio in the head, in front of Avis.
As Marcantonio went down in a heap, Avis handed out yellow (warning) cards to both. Six weeks ago, in an almost identical situation in Atlanta, Lozano received a red (ejection) card for retaliating against an Atlanta elbow. A red card for Weller would have given Washington 32 minutes to tie the game with a man advantage. But it didn't happen.
"That's the way the breaks have been for us all season," Bradley said. "Luzano gets a red in that situation, we lose that game, then lose him the next week (a red card carries a one-game suspension) in our most important game of the year against the Cosmos. Today, same thing, and it's just a yellow."
"Stupid referee," Marcantonio said. "If that wasn't a red card, I've never seen a red card in my life."
Avis appeared to lose some control of the game after the controversy, responding with two more yellow cards, one of each team, during the next five minutes.
Although the Dips lamented their missed chances, it was the Tea Men who had the better opportunities. This was a match between a hot, rested team playing at home and an exhausted, beaten up team playing on the road. The result was not surprising.
"Last year though, we won some games like this," Iarusci remembered. "Somehow, we would find a way. Not this year, though."