Alan Green, the Washington Diplomat's most consistent player this season, could find only one positive aspect to Saturday's 1-0 loss to the New England Tea Men.
"We go home now," Green said.
That alone was reason for the beleaguered Diplomats to celebrate. When they left Washington two weeks ago, they were a team on the move; a team with a four-game winning streak and the best part of its season still ahead.
All that collapsed during the four-game, 13-day trip. They lost all four games and three midfielders to injuries.They now face a scramble to make the playoffs.
"At this point all we can do is just take each game individually," Green said. "We can't worry about Toronto or Rochester or anyone else. We have to go out and win some games for ourselves."
The dips currently stand fourth and last in the NASL's National Conference East. They are 8-13 for 81 points, having picked up only two points on the road trip.
The Diplomats, from Sonny Werblin, Madison Square Garden chairman, on down, have talked continually about the bad luck that has plagued the franchise this year. Certainly, the run of injuries that has depleted the club's talents can be attributed to bad luck.
But the Dips have also shown a knack for the "almost." They lead the league in "almost" goals.
"You've got to stop talking about luck and breaks and go out and make your own breaks at some point," said defender Bob Iarusci. "We just haven't done that this season. If it isn't one thing, it's another. If we don't figure out what it is pretty soon, we're not even going to make the playoffs."
Werblin and Coach Gordon Bradley see the playoffs as the way the team can redeem itself. "If we can just get in the playoffs . . ." is an oft-repeated phrase around the Washington camp these days.
The Dips should make the playoffs. Last year Philadelphia qualified with a 10-20 record. Under the NASL playoff format, sixteen of the league's 24 teams will qualify. Washington should be one of them -- especially since seven of their 11 remaining games are at home.
But what if this club, touted early as a Soccer Bowl contender makes the playoffs? It has yet to win a playoff game in its seven-year history. Why should this year be different from any other year?
"Who's outplayed us when we've been healthy?" Bradley argued. "We've been in contention in every game. When we get (Johan) Cruyff, (Juan Jose) Lozano and (Wim) Jansen back we should be a good club."
But it isn't that simple."Even when they come back they have to get back to where they were when they were hurt," Bradley admitted. "That takes time. And they have to get used to playing together all over again."
The Dips are hoping Cruyff will be able to play Wednesday when the Seattle Sounders, the league's best team, come to RFK Stadium. Jansen will be out at least another week and Lozano and Joe Horvath are hoping to return for the playoffs.
There is a bright spot at midfield, though, and that is the acquisition from the Los Angeles Aztecs of Thomas Rongen. Playing without sleep Saturday he looked like just the kind of player the Dips need: he won loose balls; played solid defense and ran almost the entire 90 minutes.
Rongen, 23, a Dutchman, became available after he fell out of favor with Los Angeles Coach Rinus Michels in a personality dispute, apparently stemming from Rongen's less-than-conservative life style.
"When Washington was in Los Angeles two weeks ago Johan Cruyff mentioned that they might be interested in buying me," Rongen said. "So the deal wasn't that big a surprise. I'm excited to be here. It's a big change. But I think I can help here."
Just as he finished speaking Werblin walked up to the 6-foot, 170-pound midfielder to offer congratulations. "That's the last game we lose," Werblin said.
Even if that were true, the Dips still would not equal last year's win total.
The trade deadline is at 5 p.m. today and Bradley is still hoping to swing one more deal . . . Dragan Radovich has won the starting goalie job from Bill Irwin for the moment by his play on this trip.