"If we play today like against Los Angeles, no way we win. No chance at all." -- Johan Cruyff
The Washington Diplomats had just concluded their regular season with a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Kicks, the hottest team in soccer. They had come from behind to do it, in front of 21,- 833 at RFK Stadium.
They had dominated the play and finished the season with a three-game winning streak going into Wednesday's home playoff opener against the Los Angeles Azetecs at 8 p.m. in RFK Stadium.
The atmosphere in the locker room? Quiet. Very quiet. Except in the corner where Johan Cruyff sits.
"For six months I've been talking about organization and balance on this team," the Dutchman railed. "Today we went back to the same old problems. No balance, no organization. I'm very tired."
The quiet in the Washington locker room could at least partly be attributed to the Dips playing 90 minutes in the heat and knowing that they had to go back out into that heat to face hordes of camera-bearing fans.
"I feel like I have a 10-pound weight on my back," said Bob Iarusci. "I don't think I can get up."
For much of the first half yesterday the Dips looked slightly weighed down. They came out bombing, with three good chances the first five minutes, then bogged down.
As the Kicks had done in their 5-1 victory over the Diplomats in Minnesota, the team scored on its first shot of the game. The score, at at 7:29, came when Ron Futcher and Ricardo Alsonso combined to steal the ball fromDon Droege just outside the penalty box. Futcher, who had four goals in the teams' first meeting, beat goalie Dragan Radovich to his left with a perfectly placed floater into the corner of the net.
The Dips took control again, spending virtually the rest of the first half making life miserable for Minnesota goalie Tad DeLorm, making his first start of the season. Before the half was over, Washington had outshot Minnesota, 20-6, and forced DeLorm to make nine saves, several of them outstanding. It was, in many ways, reminiscent of the Minnesota meeting where the Dips dominated the first half but couldn't score.
This time though, they finally managed a goal. It came at 42:57 when Tony Crescitelli chested down a pass from Joe Horvath -- playing his first game since July 2 -- and got a 10-yard shot off with his right foot -- just before DeLorm dived on the ball. That made it 1-1 at the half.
"We weren't smooth today; no doubt about it," Coach Gordon Bradley said. "The effort was there but we had some problems getting untracked."
And the Dips had injury problems that may play a crucial role in the playoffs.
Midfielders Thomas Rongen and JuanJose Lozano and defender Nick Mijatovic did not dress yesterday. Lozano is probably through for the season with a calf contusion. Rongen is still hobbling on a sprained ankle and will not play Wednesday. Mijatovic has a nerve problem in his back.He will probably start Wednesday but, as Bradley put it, "probably won't make 90 minutes."
Yesterday, Sakib Viteskic hobbled off after 10 minutes with a badly pulled leg muscle. He is out. Carmine Marcantonio has a hamstring problem but will play. Tommy O'Hara, who played every minute of every regular-season game, took a kick on the knee from Willie Morgan and had an ugly bruise at game's end.
Horvath played but clearly isn't match fit.
"We're hurting again," Bradley said. "We've slowly slid back into that injury problem we had at midseason. I'm going to have to do some thinking about my lineup."
Those concerns were of paramount concern in the locker room. Almost forgotten were the second half goals by Crescitelli -- giving him 15 this season -- and Alan Green's game winner-- his 25th goal.
"I'll let the coaches worry about celebrating," Green said, "I'm too tired. We weren't all that good today but we won. We'll take the win."
The victory means Washington, once 8-13, finished the regular season 17-15 for 159 points, the fifth-best record in the National Conference. Minnesota, which will face Dallas in the first round of the playoffs, finished 16-16.
"It was good to end the season on an up note going into the playoffs," Bradley said. "Back in May a lot of people wouldn't have thought we'd finish this well. We did what we had to today."
As might have been expected, it was Cruyff who set up the two second-half goals. First he sent Crescitelli intothe box with a perfect feed. The young American deked DeLorm to the ground, then cut around him and beat him easily for a 2-1 lead at 57:41. The assist was Cruyff's 20th this season, a club record.
The Kicks got back to 2-2 seven minutes later when Alan Willey beat the Washington defense on the right side, and fired a point-blank shot. It ricocheted off the post and crossbar to Ricardo Alonso, who slapped it in for his 17th goal, a goal Washington maintained was an offside.
If Alonso was offside, the officialsappeared to even things up on the game winner. Again it was Cruyff starting the play with a pass to Crescitelli in the box. Crescitelli appeared to be a step offside as he tried to get around DeLorm.
But there was no whistle. DeLorm tried to take the ball off Crescitelli's foot to the right of the net. Crescitelli turned and found Green, who had cut in behind the play. Green teed theball up and blasted it by Steve Litt, who had taken DeLorm's place on the line, for the winner at 81:01.
That was enough to give the Dips thevictory, but not enough to make Cruyff happy.
"Johan's a perfectionist," Iarusci said. "At this time of year you have to expect him to be critical and demanding. We know we have to play better in the playoffs. I think we will."
A happy Cruyff going into the playoffs against his former team would be very important to all the Dips from Madison Square Garden chairman Sonny Werblin on down. Cruyff maintained early in the season that Bradley was playing too many offensive-minded midfielders. Now with his options limited by injuries, Bradley faces the dilemma of choosing a lineup that will satisfy his own needs as coach. Cruyff's demands and the rest of the team. It will not be an easy task.