"Everyone knows he (Luis Fernando) is one of the best players in this league," said Washington defender Nick Mijatovic, who had the assignment of stopping the Los Angeles striker in last night's first round NASL playoff game at RFK.
"I'm not say I'm the best defender but I have held him to one goal -- and that one was a 30-yarder in the first game -- and very few shots. He (Fernando knows I am a good player. Just go and ask him."
Fernando, who came into the game with 28 goals managed six shots, two coming after Mijatovic was replaced by Don Droege at the 57:14 mark. Mijatovic, the NASL's codefender of the year in 1979, has been playing with a sore back the last four games. But the 6-foot-2 centerback ignored the pain he later described as "very, very bad" and stopped Fernando.
"I had no trouble with him at all," Mijatovic said. "I won 95 percent of the balls in the air and I ran with him all game."
Washington scored the game's only goal on Bobby Stokes' bullet midway in the first half and Mijatovic and Co. did the rest in leading the Dips to a 1-0 victory, their first in the playoffs.
"Nick did a magnificent job on Fernando," Dip Coach Gordon Bradley said. "But early in the second half, I could see him struggling and I had to take him out. Besides that, Los Angeles had begun sending Leo Van Veen up front and Carmine (Marcantonio) is no match for him in the air. So I put Don Droege on the big boy (Van Veen) and Marcantonio took Fernando. It worked fine."
Mijatovic, who was having difficulty putting on his boots in the joyous Dip locker room after the game, said he felt fine as long as he kept running. But each time play was halted, the pain returned.
I felt okay. I didn't get much help with him but I felt I could hold him." Mijatovic said. "You can't give him any space. If he gets a little bit, he'll score a goal. I didn't want to come out but that's the coach's decision. I started off strong in the second half. I had a dozen head balls and some good sliding tackles."
Mijatovic cleared out the majority of high crosses directed at the Washington goal. He also made several dazzling, sliding saves, one he felt was one of the best of his pro soccer career.
The few balls Mijatovic failed to get, sweeper Wim Jansen swallowed up. The hustling Jansen was everywhere, helping teammates when he sensed trouble and directing traffic when the Aztecs began applying pressure n the second half.
"Give them credit," said Los Angeles Coach Rinus Michels. "We had our chances but we haven't been scoring that much lately. I thought they controlled the first half and we controlled the second. We had a good tactical game plan and we followed it. A 1-0 result is a good one, well deserved."
The Aztecs, who claimed at 2-1 overtime triumph over the Dips in an earlier meeting, outshot Washington, 17-16. The Dips had a 7-3 shot advantage in the first 45 minutes, but the visitors ticked off 14 tries to Washington's nine in the second half.
"We needed our best defense in the second half because they kept coming at us," Bradley said. "Nick and Wim played extremely well and Dragan (Radovich) had to make two critical saves. Actually, the team turned in a super defensive job."
The usually quiet, reserved Jansen, who was moved from the midfield to the sweeper job several games ago, got caught up in the physical happenings on the field (35 fouls and four yellow cards) and was hit with a caution card when he threw down one of the Los Angeles players.
"I'm just out there trying to do my best," said Jansen, who appeared slightly embarrassed when he was called for his foul. "I thought we played good defense. They were using a lot of long balls and were looking for the quick goal. Van Veen is good in the air and Fernando has that good left foot. I had to keep an eye on him because he can score quick and I knew Nick wasn't all fit. But Nick did a very good job. My help wasn't necessary."