Now comes the hard part.

Having won the first game of their opening-round playoff series with the Los Angeles Aztecs, the Washington Diplomats now must find a way Saturday night to beat the Aztecs here in the Rose BOWL (WTTG-TV-5, 10:30 p.m.).

Winning at home, 1-0, on Wednesday was not that surprising in light of the Dips' 13-3 regular season record at RFK Stadium. But for a team that was 4-12 on the road during the regular season, winning here will be no simple task.

Still, the Diplomats arrived here oozing confidence. In the last two weeks they have achieved two major firsts: beating the Cosmos in Giants Stadium and winning their first play-off game in their seven-year existence.

Now, they believe, they are ready for another first advancing to the second round of the playoffs.

"It's unbelievable how different the feeling is now as opposed to a year ago after we lost the first game," General Manger Andy Dolich said. "I think we're as confident as we've ever been in a pressure situation. We're as ready as we're ever going to be."

Perhaps mentally. Physically, however, the Diplomats are hurting. Alan Green is home nursing his injured knee. Thomas Rongen still is questionable with a sprained right ankle. Several players who will start are bothered by nagging injuries: Tony Crescitelli and Carmine Marcantonio have leg problems, Nick Mijatovic has a bad back and Johan Cruyff has a slightly pinched nerve in his neck.

"It doesn't matter now," Cruyff said of the injuries. "These are the playoffs. Everyone knows the situation. If you can walk, you must play."

The situation is this: The Diplomats have a 1-0 lead in what is a best-of-three series. If they win the regulation game Saturday night they will advance to the next round. If the Aztecs win, the teams will take a 10-minute break, then play the rubber match -- a 30-minute minigame.

"We've definitely got the advantage," Coach Gordon Bradley said. "They have to beat us twice in the same night. I don't think home field will mean quite as much as it normally does because we've already played here once this year (a 2-1 overtime loss) and because this was Johan's home field last year."

Bradley expects to see several new players in the Los Angeles lineup after the Aztecs failed to score in Washington. Los Angeles Coach Rinus Michels is renowned for changing tactics and may well alter his lineup up front to try and produce more scoring.

"It won't be hard to figure their tactics," Cruyff said. "They have to attack. They have to play against the watch. We don't."

"The longer the game stays tied at zero, the tougher it becomes for them," Bradley said. "I expect them to push up from the beginning."

Which is just the opposite of what the Aztecs did Wednesday. Then they were very cautious, looking only for the opportunity to counterattack. This time it will be Washington that will counterattack. However, the Diplomats must be careful not to go into a defensive shell. Last year in the Rose Bowl they took a 1-10 lead early in the playoff match and stopped trying to score. The result was domination by the Aztecs and a 3-1 defeat.

"But we didn't have Johan then," Crescitelli said. "He was the difference for them and now he should be the difference for us. Even without Alan, the fact remains that they don't have anyone who can compare to Johan." a

Cruyff was marked very physically and very tightly by Wim Suurbrier in the Washington match. As a result he did not dominate the offensive flow of the game the way he had in recent weeks. But he did play much more defense than at any other time all season and probably will do the same Saturday if the Diplomats can get a lead.

Because neither team has a lot of firepower, the first goal, as it was Wednesday, probably will be crucial. The Diplomats will need another excellent performance in goal from Dragan Radovich. The Aztecs are bound to put on more pressure, playing at home and playing from behind.

Finally, the Diplomats must do what they have done very well in recent weeks: ignore the controversy that still exists between Bradley and Cruyff and ignore all the questions that are being asked about the team's future.

"Right now we have to just concentrate solely on this one game," Bradley said. "I can't be worrying about next year or next month. It any of us do that, then we won't do our job. And our job right now is to beat Los Angeles."

That is the hard part.