The Washington Diplomats could do little wrong last night. After playing cat and mouse with New England in the first half, the Dips put on a clinic after intermission and thumped the Tea Men, 4-1, before a boisterous crowd of 19,324 at RFK Stadium.
In improving their record to 16-15, the Dips dominated play offensively and defensively in the second half. Johan Cruyff led the way, getting two assists, the second setting a club mark of 19, and a goal. Tony Crescitelli scored twice and Alan Green added a goal as Washington outshot the visitors, 34-8.
"They shut us down pretty good in the first half," said Cruyff. "In the second half, we began playing the ball through the wings, the way we should, and things opened up."
The dam finally broke at the 53:32 mark when Green controlled a nice pass from Cruyff and booted a high, arching twister that hit the inside of the right crossbar and caromed into the net. Tea Men goalie Kevin Keelan had no chance on Green's shot.
The 38-year-old Keelan, who may consider another line of work after last night, hardly had time to roll up his sleeves before the Dips were banging at his door again. After Cruyff made a masterful steal of an errant New England pass, he shuffled the ball off to Crescitelli who slipped a shot under Keelan to put Washington ahead, 2-0, at 54:54.
"I'm the striker and I should be where the ball is going to be," said Crescitelli. "And when Johan is out there, you know the ball is going to come to you."
New England now 17-14 and entertaining thoughts of overtaking Tampa Bay in the American Conference East Division, played an excellent tactical game in the first half. With Keelan making one save after another, the Tea Men managed to stave off their spirited hosts.
"They are a hard team to break down," said Green, who has 24 goals this year. "They played us the same way up there (New England beat Washington, 1-0, in their first meeting). They are a good defensive team and play a good, tight man. We just put together a good second half."
"New England's tenaciousness began to lose some of its zest when Cruyff began sending on-the-money passes to Green and Crescitelli through a tiring Tea Men defense. After the Green and Crescitelli goals, New England all but threw in the towel.
"All they tried to do was play defense," said Crescetelli. "You can get away with that for 45 minutes but not for 90. We just overpowered them and they had nothing left."
New England didn't have time to think about scoring. Most of the time, the Tea Men were retreating, trying to fend off the goal-hungry Dips. Riding high following their 2-1 shootout win over the Cosmos Sunday night, Washington declined to have a letdown.
"We had our chances in the first half," said elated Dip Coach Gordon Bradley. "But even with the score 0-0 in the first half, we still felt all right. We knew we'd need more time to wear them down. We were strong on defense and we didn't give away anything."
After several near-goals, Crescitelli tallied for the second time, connecting on a header following a green pass to boost the Dip lead to 3-0 at the 66:01 mark.
"I missed enough shots (seven) and should have gotten a hat trick (three goals)," said Crescetelli. "But we were patient and kept shooting. You can score with your nose or your butt. It doesn't have to be pretty as long as you score. I'm just opportunistic."
Keelan, who made 15 saves, many of them pointblank attempts, looked like a wooden duck in a shooting gallery in the second half. The Tea Men defense, which had begun to play tough the last month while the team won 12 to 15 games, suddenly showed gaping holes and Washington took advantage of each.
Cruyff, who seems to conserve his energy until he spots an opening, took a pass at one point and worked his way upfield. He lofted a high pass to Sakib Viteskic, who ripped a bullet at Keelan. The New England goalie probably was a little shell-shocked as the ball bounced off his feet, knee and chest before he lost it completely, Cruyff wasted no time finding the loose ball and dribbling it into the net to give Washington an insurmountable 4-0 lead at 77:47.
"Johan began opening them up with good passes," said Bradley. "But it was our defense that was the key. New England came into the game needing a win and they had beat us before. But we were determined to shut them down."
The Dips, who will close out the regular season here against Minnesota Sunday, never let up despite holding a huge lead. Several more Dip shots barely missed as New England began clock-watching.
"We know what we want to do now," said Washington defender Gary Darrell, who turned in his second straight strong game. "Wim (Jansen) organizes us in the back and keeps us involved. New England seemed to be waiting for a fast break to get that one early goal. But we were ready for them. Wim was always there to stop any balls that slipped through. None did."