Washington Diplomatic General Manager Dungan Hill was groping for a reason why his team has lost six of its last seven games and plunged from the NASL's elite into mediocrity.
It was bad enough that the Dips had scored only four goals in their last five games. Then the team found out yesterday that Dutch superstar Johan Cruyff, who has been counted on to give the team much-needed scoring, has been delayed in Holland and may not be able to start in Wednesday's home game against San Diego at RFK Stadium.
Cruyff had been expected to arrive in Washington on Sunday, in time to prepare for the San Diego game, but team officials said his wife is ill and the newly acquired midfielder/striker will not arrive until Tuesday. Team officials said that Cruyff, acquired last week, will suit up, but they said they could not guarantee whether he would start or play.
"It's like a nightmare," Hill said. "I'm searching for an explanation for the team's slump. But right now, I'm trying to recover from the worst hangover I've ever had in my life. Last night was rough."
Hill was refering to the Diplomats' 2-1 shootout loss Wednesday night to the Jacksonville Tea Men at RFK Stadium, the team's third straight defeat and seventh straight game in which it had failed to score the first goal.
One month ago, the Dips were 8-3 and closing in on the defending champion Cosmos. They are now 9-9 and struggling to hold onto second place.
The Dips have scored only four goals in their last five games, three on penalty kicks by Malcolm Waldron. The Dips' only score against Jacksonville was Waldron's penalty kick with 13 minutes in regulation.
"Obviously, Wednesday night was a disappointment," Hill said. "We just must recover our confidence. Everybody just has to relax. People are getting tense and everybody is trying to score. But maybe it's better to have the slump now and come out of it in the third quarter of the season, than have one later."
What's frustrating, the Diplomats say, is that they are working hard, dominating play and creating numberous scoring chances each game, but nobody can stick the ball into the goal.
"We absolutely worked ourselves to death last night," said Coach Ken Furphy. "It's like a hitters' slump in baseball. We've had players shooting, shooting and shooting some more. We've just got to keep plugging until somebody breaks the dike. We've got to stop this slide."
Against Jacksonville, the Dips dominated play but squandered at least a dozen good chances to score. Ole Mikkelsen's header, which beat the Tea Men goalkeeper but was cleared off the goal line by a defender, is typical of the Dips' misfortunes the last month.
"I don't like to make excuses," Furphy said, "but lately, we've just been plain unlucky."
The Diplomats have also plainly goofed on several opportunites, sending unobstructed, medium-range shots to the left, right or over the crossbar.