The Washington Diplomats exhibited the ultimate in ineptitude yesterday when they lost to the Seattle Sounders, 3-2, in overtime before 8,571 at RFK Stadium after leading at halftime, 2-0.

To make matters worse for Washington, Johan Cruyff didn't play for fear of reinjuring himself on the soggy RFK turf. Cruyff, in uniform, sat on the bench but was not one of the four available substitutes.

Club owner Jimmy Hill said team physician Carl MacCartee warned that playing Cruyff, recovering from groin surgery, would be an unnecessary risk.

The Dips, who are 0-4 in overtime play and now have lost seven of their last nine outings, found some astonishing ways to blow this game that should never have gone into overtime. Washington players botched four almost-certain goals in the last three minutes of regulation and the first overtime period.

Seattle finally put an end to the Dips' misery at 100:40, four minutes into the second overtime period, when Roger Davies took a corner kick from Steve Buttle and from five yards out pushed it into the net past Dips' goalkeeper Jim Brown, who had gone out to meet the corner kick.

"This is the most disappointing loss of the season," said center back Peter Carr. "I feel sick. It's lousy to be leading, 2-0, and then lose. We have nobody to blame but ourselves. We had four chances . . . four bloody chances to score the winning goal in the last three minutes of regulation. It's like missing free throws. You can't keep blowing opportunities to score in this game."

What made the Diplomats' performance even more bizarre is that they played very well throughout the first half when they took a 2-0 lead on goals by Malcolm Waldron. It was the first time in eight games that the Dips had scored the first goal.

Waldron's first goal was a 33-yard blast from a direct free kick at 16:20 after Washington forward Ole Mikkelsen was tripped by Seattle's Kevin Bond. The second one -- Waldron's 11th, a perfectly placed boot just under the crossbar -- was the result of a masterful pass from Heinz Wirtz about 19 yards out in front. It was the first time Waldron has been assisted this season.

The Dips should have led at least 4-0, but a two-goal lead seemed satisfactory. The problem was, the Dips were too satisfied.

"I hollered at the backline before the second half started to concentrate hard for the first 10 minutes and not let Seattle score," Carr said. "I guess we didn't listen to ourselves," said right back Benny Dargle.

Just 26 seconds into the second half, the Sounders (13-10) had scored their first goal on Stan Cummins' header past Brown.Nine minutes later, Seattle tied the contest, 2-2, on Kevin Bond's penalty kick -- his 11th goal.

"We seem to be giving away goals, and at the wrong time." Waldron said. "At the end of a half or the beginning. We must concentrate harder."

Each of the Washington forwards, Mikkelsen, Ross Jenkins, Don Nardiello and Clive Haywood, either blasted close-in shots wide or were stopped by Seattle goalkeeper Jack Brand, who made eight saves.

Then, with time running out, the Dips had target practice on the Seattle goal. They came up empty. In a three-minute sequence, Nardiello was stopped twice. Then, Peter Baralic, standing open eight yards in front of Brand, passed off to Haywood when he should have shot. Haywood flubbed it harmlessly away.

But Washington retained possession. Wirtz's shot was stopped by Brand and Nardiello's rebound attempt beat the Sounder goalkeeper but the ball was stopped by defender Ian Bridge on the goal line. With 13 seconds left, Baralic, with Seattle defenders closing in and his back to the net, couldn't pivot fast enough and sailed a shot wide left.

"I've never seen so many chances blown in that short a span of time," said Waldron. "With two and three minutes to go, you're hoping to get one good chance. But we had at least four."

"I started to jump up and down and scream 'GOAL' several times," said Dargle. "But nothing went in."

"We should be scoring four, five or six goals per game without any trouble with the opportunities we're creating," said striker Jenkins. "It's especially frustrating for me. It's sickening to lose a match like this. We outplayed them and still lost.

"We let them back in the game and they punished us for it in the end," Jenkins continued. "It's terrible. It all comes back to sticking the ball in the net."

Washington Coach Ken Furphy said "you expect to get beaten when you don't put three or four of those in the net." But Furphy was not displeased with his team's effort. "I don't think we had a letdown when we created 15 chances," he said.