The message in the Washington Diplomats locker room last night was urgent and unmistakable: Hurry up, Johan Cruyff. We need help.
For the umpteenth time this season, the Diplomats blew chance after chance to put a game away, finally losing to the Jacksonville Tea Men, 2-1, in a shootout before 9,540 in steamy RFK Stadium.
Malcolm Waldron's penalty kick at 76:37, which tied the game, 1-1, allowed the Diplomats to go into overtime, during which Washington again blew several chances to win the game.
Their hope were lifted, however, when midfielder David Bradfore -- the only Diplomat who played especially well all night -- looped his first-round shootout kick over substitute goalkeeper Peter Simonini to give the Dips a 1-0 lead in the final Session. But Simonini, who entered the game with 1:19 to go in the second overtime period, stopped Washington on the next four attempts.
Meanwhile, ex-Diplomat Tommy O'Hara and Bob Newton scored in the third and fifth rounds to give the Tea Men (10-8) their fifth consecutive victory and second straight shootout win over the flat-on-their-back Diplomats, who have lost six of seven and three straight.
"We just didn't play well as a team," Diplomat striker Paul Cannell said. "Everybody seems to have hit a bad spell at the same time. I wish Johan had been here tonight. Maybe he can give us a lift."
Ivan Belfiore, who missed the Dips' last shootout attempt, said: "We thought we'd win tonight. It was such a big game for us, especially with Montreal (which trails the second-place Dips by only five points) right on our tail. Maybe Johan coming in will shake things up. We need it."
"This is probably an opportune time for Johan to arrive," said reserve striker Don Nardiello, who played very well coming off the bench in the second half. "We've lost our sharpness. Maybe Johan can come in and give us that something extra."
The Diplomats worked very hard last night. They dominated play for 70 of the 90 minutes in regulation but couldn't convert the scoring opportunities before them.
At the 11-minute mark, Cannell headed a beautiful pass to Bradford, but the tiny midfielder's shot sailed inches over the crossbar. Less than 10 minutes later, captain Peter Baralic centered the ball to winger Trevor Hebberd, but he shanked an unobstructed 18-yard kick way wide of the Jacksonville goal.
While the Dips were misfiring, Jacksonville took a 1-0 lead in the 33rd minute when former Diplomat Alan Green took a passin the penalty area from Tony Brown and beat goalie Jim Brown.
Midway through the second half, Bradford sent a slick pass to forward Ole Mikkelsen. His header beat starting goalkepper Arnie Mausser, but defenseman Colin Brazier kicked the ball off the goal line at the last possible second.
The Dips missed three other scoring opportunities in the overtime period. "We just haven't been making the chances," said Baralic.
"Teams go through phases like this," said Diplomat Coach Ken Furphy. "I've seen this before. The ball is just not going in. We just couldn't put a foot to it at the right time. What can you do? We'll get out of it, though. We're still in second place."
The Tea Men might have won the game in regulation if O'Hara had not tripped Washington's Nardiello well inside the penalty area, with the Dips attacking seven men. Waldron converted the penalty kick for his ninth goal of the season.
Neither team scored in overtime. Then came the shootout, where the Dips have now lost two straight.
"This is why I hate the shootout system," Furphy said. "it is not a spoils system. I thought we dominated the second half and we got nothing for it." When Belfiore issed Washington's final chance, the frustrated Dips had absolutely nothing -- no points -- to show for their efforts.
Now they'll just wait for Cruyff to arrive on his 5 p.m. flight from London on Sunday.