One thing about the Washington Diplomats: they never do anything halfway. When they are good, they are superb. When they are bad, they are awful.
Tonight, they were awful.
Out of position defensively almost all night and unable to convert innumerable first-half scoring chances, the Diplomats were destroyed, 5-1, by the Minnesota Kicks in front of 18,238 in steamy Metropolitan Stadium.
The Kicks' Ron Futcher, fined $100 a week ago for being three pounds overweight, appeared plenty quick to the Diplomats, burning goalie Dragan Radovich for four goals. Ace Ntsoelengoe got the other goal, they key one that gave the Kicks a 2-0 lead just before halftime.
The loss dropped Washington's overall record to 14-14, for 134 points, and their road record to a patehtic 3-11. The Kicks, winners of seven of their last nine, are now 13-15 for 118 points.
Johan Cruyff saved Washington from complete humiliation, beating Kick goalie Tino Lettieri with a gorgeous 15-yard kick at 80:01 for his ninth goal of the season.
"I'd like to play them again tomorrow," said Washington Coach Gordon Bradley. "We probably had more scoring changes tonight than we've had all season. We could have had 10 goals, 11, 12. We should have wrapped the game up by halftiime."
Bradley, normally placid in victory or defeat, was storming after this one. He paced the length of the Washington locker room, stopping to say things like: "I wish we had saved 20 of those chances for Vancouver," and, "The score was an injustice."
There is no questioning the fact that Washington had chances to score. The Dips outshot Minnesota, 33-13, forcing Lettieri to make a club-record 18 saves, several of them brilliant. The Diplomats also hit the crossbar twice and a post twice.
"But we gave up five goals, didn't we?" noted Alan Green, tossing a cigarette down in disgust. "Can't do that and call yourselves winners."
Even Bradley calmed down long enough to concede, "We gave up five bad goals."
The first one, at the 20:47 mark of the first half, had the Diplomats talking to themselves -- angrily. It was set up when Willie Morgan sent defender Gary Vogel into the penalty area with a long pass. Vogel tried to loft a pass to Ricardo Alonso, but the kick went too far.
No matter. As the ball cleared Alonson's head, Futcher, who has 12 goals in 18 games this season, streaked in from the left side and smacked the ball past goalie Dragan Radovich almost from point-blank range.
Before Radovich had even retrieved the ball, Thomas Rongen and Wim Jansen were on top of him, telling him he should have come out to intercept the Vogel pass.
Jansen left the scene fairly quickly, but Rongen lingered, still gesturing angrily. Finally, as Rongen turned to walk away, Radovich gave him a shove with his hand.
"I couldn't come out because if I had he could have just stopped it and flicked it by me, made me look bad," said Radovich. "There really wasn't much I could do."
"He should have come out," said Rongen. "Mistake. No big deal. We all make them."
The Washington defense made the next one. After Lettieri had robbed Rongen with a diving save of his 12-yard shot, the Dips, perhaps discouraged, let up for a moment.
That was long enough for Bjorn Nordqvist, the 37-year-old wonder, to send Ace Ntsoelengoe into the Washington penalty area all alone.
Ntsoelengoe chested the ball down, teed it up and beat Radovich from 10 yards for his eighth goal of the season at 40:37. "He had five seconds to set it up," said Radovich. "I never had a chance."
From that moment, neither did the Diplomats.
"Ace's goal was vital," Kick Coach Freddie Goodwin said. "They had applied a lot of pressure just prior to that. If it had been 1-1 a half instead of 2-0 it would have been a different game strategically."
Instead, the second half turned into an embarrassment for Washington. First, Cruyff had a chance at least as good at Ntsoelengoe's, a 12-yard teed-up rebound of a Green shot.He blasted the ball past Lettieri, then watched in amazement as it hit the bottom of the crossbar and somehow stayed out of the net.
That was all the Kicks needed to give them the impetus for the kill.
Futcher's second goal at 54:48 made it 3-0, seemingly plenty of goals for a team averaging 1.6 a game coming in.
But no. After taking a cross from Chico Hamilton and chesting in his second score, Futcher took an almost indentical left-to-right cross from Morgan and headed in his third at 57:34, then took yet another pass from Morgan and beat Radovich in the air again for No. 4 at 66:22.
"Clearly, we weren't organized on defense," Cruyff said. "If you give up five goals, things are not right. Both teams created chances. The difference was, they took advantage of theirs."
"They had eight chances and scored five," Bradley said. "We had 20 and scored on one."
A bad batting average for the offense, a bad night for the defense. And overall, a very bad night for the Diplomats.
While the rest of the Washington Diplomats fly to Vancouver Thursday, midfielder Juan-Jose Lozano will head in the opposite direction: home to Washington.
Lozano, who returned to game action after seemingly recovering from a broken left foot, tested the foot again before the game tonight and found he could not cut on it or apply pressure to it. As a result, Bradley and trainer Steve Hornor decided to send him home for further treatment.
Bradley said he will decide after arriving in Vancouver whether to send for another player, probably Sonny Askew or Bobby Stokes, to join the team as a midfield replacement for Lozano.