Barring an 11th-hour miracle, Washington will be without a soccer team tonight.
The last real hope for reviving the Diplomats, who were terminated last Monday, was eliminated over the weekend. Richard A. Viguerie, the direct mail champion of conservative causes, decided he did not have enough information about the soccer situation here to commit to being the majority stockholder in a franchise.
According to informed sources, Viguerie agreed to be part of a group that would buy the team but his financial contribution was not enough. So, unless another backer materializes, Diplomat President Steve Danzansky will not even go to chicago to make a presentation to league owners, who will be meeting there today.
If Washington makes no presentation, the league will begin planning for a 21-team league next season, eliminating Washington, Rochester and Houston. a
"We just aren't close enough to make a presentation right now," Danzansky said yesterday. "We've got some people who are willing to go in for part of the deal, but not enough. Unless someone calls me at the last minute, there's just no point in going."
Around the league, the reaction to Washington's apparent demise was one of shock. "I never really thought it would happen," said Atlanta Chiefs Vice President Terry Hanson, who worked for the Dips two years. "They've done everything right up there.
"But the league is doing this to itself. Everyone is trying to compete with the Cosmos in terms of talent, and how many people can afford to do that?"
After fighting to build soccer here for six years, Danzansky sounded resigned to the Diplomats' fate.
"The problem with the league is simple," he said. "We've sold soccer to the United States. We've got people playing and talking about the sport. But we haven't sold the NASL. We haven't sold tickets. We haven't translated what we've done with soccer into revenue.Ultimately, the financial situation is doing us in."
Danzansky was still on the phone yesterday, hoping someone might have a change of heart. "We're at the woodwork stage," he said. "Unless someone comes out of the woodwork, it's over."
The Diplomats will die after seven years in the league, after building attendance from less than 1,000 per game five years ago at Woodson High School in Fairfax to 19,205 per game this season, including one crowd of 53,000 at RFK Stadium.
Madison Square Garden Corp., which owned the franchise until a week ago, will retain the contracts of the Diplomat players except for Johan Cruyff, whose contract reverted to the Cosmos, and Juan Jose Lozano, who has been sold to a team in Barcelona. The league will conduct a dispersal draft for players from the Washington, Houston and Rochester franchises Dec. 10.
"It's sad," Danzansky said. "We all tried. Washington is a good soccer town and a good sports town.But in the end, that had nothing to do with this. It was out of our control."