The new Washington Diplomats' biggest chore in the early season, in addition to defeating their NASL opponents, may be trying to avoid the inevitable comparisons to last year's team.
"The people in Washington are going to have to be broad-minded and give this team a fresh start," Atlanta Chiefs' General Manager Terry Hanson said yesterday. "Last year's Diplomats and this team from Detroit are not to be compared. It's a whole new ball game."
Washington's team, young and very British-oriented, has no superstars and only one or two names that area fans many recognize. The Dips (14-18 as the Detroit Express last season) will open the season against the strong Strikers Saturday in Fort Lauderdale.
Dips II will not remotely resemble the team that won 17 games and made the playoffs last season. That team, led by legendary Dutch midfielder Johan Cryuff, played an entertaining style of soccer that helped the club average more than 19,000 per game.
Seventeen of the current 18 players and Coach Ken Furphy are from countries that subscribe to some variation of the English style of soccer.
That style often disdains the short-pass, finesse game for a more physical style depending on long passes.
"The going joke about traditional English soccer," said one league general manager, "is that a prerequisite for a British midfielder is to have a strong neck so he can watch the ball travel over his head from the defense to the front line.
"I don't know if they're going to play that style or not, but I rank traditional English right up there with watching grass grow and paint dry," said San Jose General Manager John Carbray, former Dip general manager. "If that's the type of soccer they're going to try and sell there in Washington, RFK will be a great place to take a nap on Sunday afternoon."
The one point on which general managers around the league agree is that the team's strengths will be goalkeeping and the expected rejuvenation of striker Paul Cannell, who became one of the most popular of the old Dips before being traded two years ago.
Here is a brief look at the Diplomats who are expected to start against the Strikers at 8 p.m. Saturday:
Jim Brown, goalkeeper: the 28-year-old from Scotland is coholder of the NASL record for minutes played in one season (3,005). After his finger was broken in indoor season, Brown wrapped the hand and played forward. "I've never seen a weakness in Brown," said Hanson, former Dip vice president. "He's one of the premier goalkeepers in the league."
Cannell, forward: colorful 27-year-old striker from England is Dips' all-time leading scorer (37 goals, 89 points) but may be best remembered for taking his pants down in front of an RFK crowd two years ago. "If Cannell can keep his mouth shut and his pants up, he'll be all right," Carbray chuckled. "Cannell's return is magic for the franchise," Hanson said.
Peter Baralic, forward: the strong 29-year-old from Yugoslavia scored only five goals last year (he missed 10 games with a bruised thigh) with Tampa Bay, but scored nine the season before from the midfield position.
David Bradford, midfielder and forward: the Englishman is called the "Mighty Atom" because he's only 5-foot-6, 135 pounds. Both Hanson and Carbray say he is the key to whatever offensive plans the Dips have. Had 16 assists last season for Detroit and holds record with Brown for minutes played in a season.
Ole Mikkleson, striker: a 22-year-old from UCLA, he was club's second-round draft choice. He'll replace injured Don Nardiello on one wing and assume much of the playmaking responsibility. "He's inexperienced but has looked very good in exhibitions," Furphy said last week.
Eddie Colquhoun, defender: the 36-year-old sweeper from Scotland was the anchor of the Express defense, but his duties have decreased with age and he may spend more time as assistant coach than as a player as the season wears on and the young Dips gain more experience.
Benny Dargle, defender: the aggressive 24-year-old from Akron, Ohio, was assessed 65 fouls in 32 indoor games this winter.
Ivan Belfiore, defender: the 20-year-old Canadian is probably the team's best defender. He started all but one game last year and is very fast. Another aggressive player in the traditional English mold.
David McGill, midfielder: another Canadian, he started 26 games for the Express last season at 19, after calling every coach in the league for a tryout and catching only Furphy in the office. An intregal part of General Manager Duncan Hill's youth movement.
Angus Moffat, midfielder: the 35-year-old Canadian veteran missed much of the last two seasons with mononucleosis and hepatitis.
Signed earlier this week from the English League were Ross Jenkins, at 6-5 probably the tallest striker in the league, midfielder Trevor Hebberd and sweeper Malcolm Waldron, who may start immediately.