One word soccer fans never use in describing a Washington Diplomat match with the Cosmos is boring.
The last three times these National Conference foes have played, the games ended in tie breaker shootouts. The Cosmos, three-time NASL champions, won each one, including a fight-marred 2-1 victory before 53,351 fans at RFK Stadium June 1.
"We know we've lost three straight tough games to the Cosmos," Washington Coach Gordon Bradley said today, "But the lads still believe they can beat them. We feel we're just as good as they are. Maybe we're feeling a bit jinxed about now. But this game certainly means a lot to both of us."
Although the Cosmos, 22-7 with 194 points, already have clinched their third straight division championship, Sunday's 7:30 p.m. contest (WTTG-TV-5) against the Dips (14-15, 134 points) at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands should not be any less exciting than the previous three.
"The game is important to us be because we need the points to wrap up second place for the playoffs," said Washington's leading scorer, Alan Green, who, with 23 goals and eight assists for 54 points, is fourth in NASL scoring. "It's important to other people because of who they (Cosmos) are. We just have to forget about who they are and go out and win. Winning this game should be our only concern."
With just three games remaining in the regular season, Washington, which has dropped its last two games, is anxious to register a victory here and gain some necessary momentum for the league playoffs. A victory tonight also would give Washington a good chance at finishing above 500. The Dips play host to New England Wednesday night before closing out the season Sunday against Minnesota at RFK.
"Considering the start we had, I don't think a final 17-15 record is all that bad," Bradley said. "If we lost to the Cosmos, we'll really have to struggle to salvage a .500 season. And of course, we want to beat them to prove something to ourselves."
Defeating the talented Cosmos won't be easy, for several reasons. The Cosmos rarely lose at Giants Stadium, having won all 14 of their home games this year. There also is no love lost between the two clubs. The Cosmos would like nothing better than to shut down the league's most glamorous star, Washington midfielder Johan Cruyff, while whipping the Dips for the 10th time in 13 meetings.
There also is the matter of points. New York presently is three points behind Seattle going into this weekend's action. The team finishing with the highest total number of points earns the home-field advantage for the entire playoffs.
"They would love to have that home-field advantage," Bradley said.
"That's one major reason they won't be letting down against us. We will have a very difficult time trying to beat them at home."
If midfielders Thomas Rongen and Carmine Marcantonio and striker Tony Crescitelli still are nursing sore legs, the task will be even more difficult. "If they can't go, I don't know what I'll do," Bradley said. "Flip a coin to see who plays."
Bradley says the key matchups will be Dips sweeper Nick Mijatovic Against NASL leading scorer Giorgio Chinaglia (30 goals, 11 assists) and Cruyff against whomever the Cosmos decide to use against him.
Should Majatovic manage to contain the deceptive Chinaglia, the Cosmos have a squad of other skillful players who can score at any time.
Up front with Chinaglia are Roberto Cabans (two goals) and Julio Romero (12 goals, 17 assists). The Comos' leader, Franz Beckenbauer, and Johan Neeskens may sit this one out with leg injuries. But Vladilav Bogicevic (five goals, 15 asists), who made the winning shot in the shootout to beat the Dips here, flashy Francois Van der Elst (four goals) and Angelo DiBernardo (six goals, 12 assists) comprise a fine attacking midfield.
Washington recently put together a slick six-game winning streak to finally go over the 500 mark for the first time this year at 14-13 before losing their last two. In that string, the Dips scored 22 goals and allowed seven.Although they played well, the Diplomats again came up short on the road and were beaten in Minnesota, 5-1, and in Vancouver, 2-0, last week.
"If you give up five goals, I guess you deserve to lose, but actually we played very well both games," Bradley said. "We played good attacking soccer, had excellent scoring chances but just ran into two of the best goalies we've seen this year. We plan to play the same way, give it our best shot."