-By now, the Washington Diplomats must feel as if they have been traveling on the Yellow Brick Road all season.
They have yet to run into a scarecrow, a tin woodsman, or a cowardly lion but it certainly seems as if the wicked witch of soccer is on their trail.
"Maybe," said defender Bob Iarusci, "someone should write a master's thesis on the difference between the Diplomats at home and the Diplomats on the road."
After the latest disaster, a 5-1 embarrassment Wednesday night in Minnesota, it doesn't take a scholar to add up Washington's numbers: 11-3 at home; 3-11 on the road. The chances for improvement on the latter mark are less than great. Two road games remain -- Saturday against Soccer Bowl champion Vancouver and Aug. 17 against the Diplomats' nemesis, the Cosmos.
"Three and eleven." Iarusci said, shaking his head in disgust. "How can a club with this kind of talent be 3-11 on the road?"
No one seems able to answer that question adequately. After the Minnesota game, Coach Gordon Bradley was in a rage, angered by lost opportunities on offense and blunders on defense.
"I'd like to play the (the Kicks) the next six nights and play just like this," Bradley said. "We controlled the game. How many times did we hit the post or the crossbar? (Four.) It's impossible. We should have had the game wrapped up by halftime."
But they didn't. In fact the Diplomats trailed, 2-0. The second half was worse, with Johan Cruyff's ninth goal of the season the only bright spot. w
Cruyff, Alan Green and Tony Crescitelli had one excellent scoring chance after another, especially in the first half when the game was still close.
During Washington's six-game winning streak, which ended in Minnesota, the trio seemed to convert every good opportunity. Not against the Kicks.
"I thought our offense was as good tonight as it's been all season," said Crescitelli. "We outshot them, 33-13. How many saves did that goalie (Tony Lettieri) make?"
The answer, 18, many of them brillant.
But Lettieri's saves had little to do with the defensive laspes all over the field that gave the Kicks the point-blank shots they scored their goals on -- four by Ron Futcher, one by Ace Ntsoelengoe.
Washington's goalie Dragan Radovich may have hurt himself by not going out to meet the ball on a couple of occasions. But the blame for the five goals must be shared: it was a team effort.
"We win a few games in a row and everbody relaxes," said Cruyff, who was superb again in his role as a playmaker. "Soccer is a sport where you can't let down mentally. You have to keep thinking, you have to play smartly. We didn't do that against Minnesota."