North American Soccer League owners will conduct a vote by telephone today at 12:30 p.m. and we are expected to approve the move of the Detroit Express to Washington for the 1981 season.
Express majority owner Duncan Hill will hold a press conference after the vote to formally announce the team's plan to move to RFK Stadium. After a day on the phone yesterday with other league owners, Hill said, "I think we have most of the problems ironed out and I'm very optimistic.I would hope we'll be able to get a unanimous vote approving this move."
The only stumbling block remaining if the owners vote approval would be the lease signed with the Pontiac Silverdome.
"That's not a problem," Hill said. "We have an escape clause based on a minimum attendance figure we didn't reach last year. At worst, we might have to come to some financial settlement. But it won't prevent the move."
If the Express move, Paul Cannell, one of the most popular players in the history of Washington professional soccer, would be playing here again.
Cannell, a striker who was the second-leading scorer during the seven years of the now-defunct Washington Diplomats, was traded away after the 1979 season following a dispute with management.
"When we were in Guatemala last week playing an exhibition series I told Paul about the possibility of a move to Washington, and he was delighted by the idea," Express Coach Ken Furphy said. "His memories of Washington are quite fond."
Cannell became a league-wide celebrity in 1978 when he dropped his pants to show his indignation at a referee's call and was suspended by NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam. In Washington, Cannell was known for his reckless play, his outgoing personality and his ability to score goals. If the move is made, Cannell, 28, will be one of the key men in promoting the new team.
Beyond Cannell, the Express is basically a young team. Entering its fourth year in the league, the club is coming of a 14-18 season in which it missed the playoffs but gained experience for a number of young players.
Among the better of these are Canadian defender Ivan Belfiore, 20; midfielder Don Nardiello, 23; defender David McGill, 20, and striker David Bradford, 26. Furphy also hopes to acquire forward Gary Bannister, 19, from Coventry of the English first division.
"We went with a young team last year because we felt the experience the players got would make us stronger in the long run," said Furphy, the only coach the Detroit team has had. "We made some moves in the offseason to pick up some experience to help the young players out."
Cannell, obtained from Calgary, was one acquisition. The other key move was to purchase of midfielder Peter Baralic, 29, from Tampa Bay. He played on two Soccer Bowl teams for Tampa Bay and should lend stability to the midfield.
There has been speculation that Johan Cruyff, in large part responsible for the Diplomats averaging 19,205 a home game last season, might return to Washington. Cruyff is committed to play in Spain through May but could be available, if the Express wants to spend the money, from June on. Cruyff spoke by telephone yesterday with former Diplomat coach Gordon Bradley about that possiblity.
"It really wasn't anything more than a hypothetical conversation," Bradley said. "But he will be available from June on."