When Duncan Hill and his partners in Detroit decided in February to move their soccer team to Washington, one of their prime considerations was the Cosmos.
Specifically, they were influenced by the rivalry between the old Washington Diplomats and the Cosmos. Over two seasons, the teams played four wild shootout games, including a classic in RFK Stadium last June that had 53,000 people enthralled for three hours.
Today, these new Diplomats played the first of four games this season against soccer's royalty. To the Diplomats, a surprising 5-1 coming in here, this is one of The Games.Two hours lbefore game time goalkeeper Jim Brown couldn't even put sugar in his coffee.
"He dropped it and then couldn't catch it and then ended up spilling it all over the floor," said Hill. "They're all tight. I wish they could relax." After he spoke, Hill kept glancing nervously at his watch. Every 30 seconds he would take a cigar from his mouth, sip from a beer and say, "Almost time to play."
But when the time came, it was not the same. Not yet, anyway. The 1-0 Cosmos victory had none of the electricity generated between the teams bearing these names in the past.
To the Cosmos, the new Diplomats are, more than anything else, a curiosity.
"We expected a tough game because they have won five straight," said Giorgio Chinaglia, held without a goal for the first time in 14 home games. "We were only four points ahead in the standings and that was a surprise. Not it's 11 points and we can breathe a little easier."
What made the games between the old Dips and the Cosmos special was Washington's insistence on attacking. Players like Alan Green, Tommy O'Hara, Bobby Stokes and, of course, Johan Cruyff, always seemed to be at their creative best against the Cosmos.
"We would go right at them and they could never believe it," said Bob Iarusci, now back with the Cosmos after two years in Washington. "They never expected a team to come at them, especially here.
"These guys played us the way most teams play the Cosmos. They stayed back and hoped for a mistake. They really didn't create anything all day."
"I think to us, they were just Detroit running around in Diplomat uniforms. It wasn't the same as the past."
"They don't play like the old Dips at all," Ricky Davis said. "They play that English kind of defensive game. They're good though. With that goal-keeper (Brown) they'll be a good team.
"Today, though, I don't think you could call it an exciting game.I think we look at it as a win, nothing more, nothing special."
But thanks to Sonny Werblin, who cried throughtout his two years as owner of the Diplomats for more games with the Cosmos, there will be three more chances this year to make something special happen. Instead of waiting until July or August to wipe out the memory of today's match, the Dips will get another chance in three weeks.
"Just wait until May 23," were the words echoing around the Washington locker room. The Diplomats felt cheated today because it appeared that Francois Van der Elst touched the ball with his hand a split second before he scored the only goal.
"How many chances did we have, though?" Chinaglia asked. "They may cry, but clearly we outplayed them."
Clearly. For the first 10 minutes, the Diplomats took the play to the Cosmos. But after taking the first four shots of the game, Washington dropped back as if believing there were something wrong with playing the mighty Cosmos.
From then on, it was the brillance of Brown, plus some superb defensive work, most notably by Peter Carr, that kept the game close.
But in losing, the Diplomats may have learned some important lessons for the future. They learned, after five of their 11 starters had faced the Cosmos for the first time, that wealth and fame make no difference on a soccer field. Most important, they came away wanting revenge. "If they thought they were in a game today," said Brown, "just wait until May 23."
"If all they can manage is one-nil on their own domain, that's pretty sad," Paul Cannell said.