Johan Cruyff, the man who has done it best during the Washington Diplomats' six-game winning steak, said it best when the subject of the club's three-game road swing came up today.
"Now," said the Dutchman, "we find out."
Beginning Wednesday at 9:05 p.m. (WWDC-1260) against the Minnesota Kicks, the Dips will begin to find out if they have come of age as a soccer team or are merely a good-home, no-travel flash.
The matchup in Metropolitan Stadium will be between two teams that have ridden similar roller coasters this season. Both started with high hopes, the Kicks based on four consecutive divison titles, the Diplomats on the acquisition of Cruyff. Each promptly fell flat on its collective face.
Now, though, each is beginning to play up to its potential, Washington having finally cracked the .500 mark at 14-13, while Minnesota is up to 12-15 after winning six of its last eight games.
"We're playing offensive-minded, entertaining soccer again," Freddie Goodwin, Kicks president and coach, said today. "I didn't think we were doing either early in the season."
It was because of that belief that Goodwin fired Roy McCrohan after a 2-7 start and returned to coaching the team himself. Since then the Kicks are 10-8. In spite of their record they could still end up winning the NASL National Conference Central Division -- soccer's answer to the NHL's Smythe Division. The Kicks enter Wednesday's game in third place, trailing second-place Dallas by three points and the leader, Tulsa, by nine.
The biggest mystery in Minnesota this year has been the play, or nonplay, of Alan Willey. The Kicks' all-time leading scorer has been ineffective except for a four-game stretch in June during which he scored all of his five goals.
Goodwin stuck with Willey for as long as he thought he could afford to, hoping the 23-year-old Englishman would come around. Three games ago he inserted Ricardo Alonso in Willey's striker spot. Alonso responded with four goals Saturday in the Kicks' 5-1 win over Rochester and will start again on Wednesday.
"No question we're a better team when Alan's on form," Goodwin said. "I hope he'll start playing well again soon. But until then we'll go with Ricardo."
Alonso lead the Kicks with 11 goals. But the man the Dips must concern themselves with most is midfielder Ace Ntsoelengoe. The lithe South African is the team's leading scorer with seven goals and 15 assists for 29 points. Like Cruyff for Washington, he is the leader of the Minnesota offense. He will spend much of his time looking for Alonso, Ron Futcher (seven goals in the last eight games) and Chico Hamilton (eight goals, nine assists).
"Scoring goals has been our problem for a lot of the season," said Goodwin, noting that his team has scored only 46 goals in 27 games. "With Willey not scoring and Futcher out the first 10 games because of a knee injury, we didn't have our most effective scorers.
The Diplomats had a similar problem when Cruyff went goalless until the 15th game of the season. Now, with eight goals and 17 assists. Cruyff is second to Alan Green (23 goals, eight assists). Green is the third leading scorer in the league.
"It's been an unusual season for both teams," said Dip Coach Gordon Bradley, who played and coached under Goodwin in New York in 1967. "We both started out sort of picked as Soccer Bowl contenders and did poorly. Now, it looks like we both might have a chance after all. It just took us both a while to get started."
The Kicks have an 8-5 record at home -- last year they were 14-1 -- and have never lost more than five games at home in their five-year existence. The Dips have not won here in four tries. With the Kicks playing well again, this will not be an easy match.
"If we pretend we're at home, we should be just fine," Green said. "If we could just convince the Kicks they were in RFK, we'd have it licked."
Goodwin has protested to the league because the Chicago Sting, who have already clinched their division title, benched four starters while losing to Tulsa, 3-1, on Saturday . . . Kick goalie Tino Lettieri has a 1.39 goals against average but has given up only eight goals in his last seven starts . . . Minnesota, one of the NASL's early attendance successes, has fallen from an average of 25,000 per game last season to 17.200 this season. They are hoping for 25,000 Wednesday . . . Sonny Askew and Bobby Stokes, starters all last season and at the start of this season, did not make the trip, even though both are healthy and could play. They have lost their spots in Waashington's first 16.