With a combination of good luck and inspiration, the Washington Diplomats couldn't go wrong.
The good luck came when Washington defender Peter Carr, best known for his defense, scored his first NASL goal early in the second half to tie the game, 2-2. San Diego Coach Ron Newman called the goal the strangest he had ever seen.
The inspiration came when Johan Cruyff, who arrived in Washington Tuesday, entered the lineup with 10 minutes remaining in regulation. His invigorated teammates dominated the 15-minute overtime and beat the Sockers, 3-2, in a shootout for only their second victory in their last eight games.
A crowd of 10,651 watched the soggy game in RFK Stadium.
"Johan's coming into the game really helped us," said Washington goalkeeper Jim Brown, who stopped four of five San Diego attempts en route to the Dips' third shootout victory. "I would have been really sick if we'd come off the field tonight with nothing."
The Dips almost came up empty again.
When San Diego's Kaz Deyna punched a 25-yard shot past Brown at 3:27 to give the visitors a 1-0 lead, the Dips had failed to score first for the eighth straight game. "I only caught a glimspe of the ball before it was by me," Brown explained in the locker room.
Only fine defensive plays by Brown and midfielder David McGill kept Washington from being down more than 1-0 early in the game.
The punchless Diplomats then got their first "live ball" goal since June 14 when captain Peter Baralic's 18-yarder tied the game, 1-1, at 28:13. Lightning flashed and thunder rolled over RFK just as the ball touched the nets.
Most of the fans ran to shelter to escape the driving rain that persisted much of the night and put what Baralic called "little lakes" on the field.
But the Dips couldn't keep even. With 16 seconds left in the first half, the Washington defense, usually solid during the last month of horror, allowed left winger Manu Sanon to confront Brown unmarked. Sanon took a pass from right winger Julie Veee, and scored easily, giving the Sockers (10-10) a 2-1 halftime edge.
But the memory of tha score didn't last too long. The Dips, who have complained recently of having the worst luck in the league, scored on a most bizarre play.
Carr took a 25-yard shot that was headed at least 10 yards wide left. But the ball deflected off San Diego defender Marty Donnelly's head and rebounded across startled goalkeeper Volkmar Gross' body into the goal. Donnelly was injured and lying on the ground about eight yards from the goal toward the far side of the penalty area when the ball glanced off him.
After Carr's goal, the Dips seemed destined to win. They attacked three and four men in the last 20 minutes but still could not score. Then, with 10:15 left to play, Cruyff, the 34-year-old Dutchman came into the game for forward Don Nardiello. The chant, "JOHAN . . . JOHAN . . . JOHAN," grew.
"I felt special when he came in," Waldron said.
"It felt like somebody had given me an injection," said Baralic. "Absolutely, it lifted us."
"I knew that putting Johan in would lift the crowd and in turn, lift the team," Diplomat Coach Ken Furphy said afterward.
Cruyff, still recovering from a groin surgery, limped noticeably and wasn't in much action. But his new teammates and crowd took on new life.
Waldron gave the Dips a 1-0 lead in the second shootout round, but Veee tied it in the third round. Baralic deked Gross left for a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the third and Brown stopped Deyna and Mike Stojanovic in the fourth and fifth rounds to secure the Dips' sixth victory in nine home games. With the victory, the Dips stretched their secondplace lead over idle Montreal to nine points.