The Washington Diplomats were kicking themselves after Saturday night's 3-1 loss to Tampa Bay for blowing early scoring opportunities that could have led to an easy road victory.
"We must forget this game in a hurry," said Dip captain Peter Baralic, a former Rowdie who had been pointing to this game.
Several players said they had learned a lesson after losing the rematch to a team they routed, 4-1, just a week ago at RFK Stadium. Washington came in overconfident and failed to convert good scoring opportunities in the first 30 minutes.
Tampa Bay, behind the excellent goalkeeping of Kevin Keelan, fed off the Dips' early misfortunes and scored three times in an 11-minute span to break a four-game losing streak.
The Rowdies, a perennial NASL power, had become the league's most disappointing team with a 3-6 record, placing them last in the Southern Division. Tampa was reminiscent of last year's Diplomats, stocked with individual talent but with few victories to show for it. Tampa Coach Gordon Jago was booed loudly when introduced before the game.
A half-page cartoon in Saturday's Tampa Tribune pictured a Rowdie player with a hole where his heart should have been. After the victory before only 16,000 at normally crowded Tampa Stadium, Jago stated firmly, "We do have heart."
"They just couldn't afford to lose another game," said Diplomat defender Ivan Belfiore. "They were a different team from last week. The Rowdies had their backs against the wall and just had to win."
But the Dips (5-3), who outplayed Tampa except for the 11-minute period of disaster, took the first half rather casually. "We got just what we deserved," said sweeper Malcolm Waldron.
The Dips' recent five-game winning streak and good showing in a loss to the Cosmos on the road, may have hurt them Saturday. After the loss, many of the Dips, angry at themselves, vowed to work harder than ever this week to prepare for Sunday's home game with Dallas.
"We have to make it up to all those people in Washington who watched this game on television," said Baralic.
It has been learned that the Dips are planning to play in the NASL's winter indoor season at either the D.C. Armory or Capital Centre, most likely the Armory.
The Dips' scheduled exhibition match in June with the Chicago Sting at the Pontiac (Mich.) Silverdome has been canceled at the request of the Sting. The exhibition was part of the deal in which the Detroit Express (now the Dips) sent forward Pato Margetic to Chicago. The deal could be nullified if Chicago doesn't agree to play the exhibition sometime after the season.