The Washington Diplomats now realize that with Johan Cruyff they could be transformed from an average, inexperienced, unexciting team into a potentially dangerous offensive unit.
In Washington's 2-0 victory over Toronto at RFK Stadium Wednesday night, Cruyff demonstrated that, even at 34, he can perform marvelous tricks with a soccer ball. He rolled and chipped some passes that some of his teammates had not seen come their way this season, or perhaps ever. s
"All I have to do is make my run and the ball is there," Diplomat forward Ole Mikkelsen said Thursday. "Johan points to a spot where he wants you to end up. If I just run, the ball gets there. He bends and drops some seemingly impossible passes onto people's feet. He played a couple of balls to me last night that were perfect.
"There's no way I've played with anybody like that. Braddy (midfielder David Bradford) can drop some nice balls on you, but Cruyff's are incredible."
Mikkelsen is a 22-year-old with a bright future, an American rookie who is eager to learn. Part of the reason the Diplomats brought in Cruyff was to help young players such as Mikkelkson, his roommate Ivan Belfiore, 21, David McGill, 21, and Trevor Hebberd, 23.
Cruyff is a perfectionist, a demanding on-the-field coach who positions teammates to his liking. Last year's team, a veteran squad of international players, resented Cruyff's instructions and told him so. This group welcomes the guidance.
"Compared with last year's team we're a much younger side," said Malcolm Waldron, one of the team's veterans at 25. "We appreciate his help. They were veterans who probably thought they knew as much about the game as Johan, even though they didn't. We can learn so much from him."
As soon as Cruyff took the field for his first start of the season Wednesday night he began pointing and directing like a rush-hour traffic cop. "He's pointing out better position, moving us to where he can play the ball best," said McGill. "He's constantly making us aware. He's not criticizing, he's encouraging."
Said Mikkelsen, "From what I saw last night, Johan tends to take over situations. He's the chief. He runs the show. But he understands the game so well, you tend to listen or at least think about what he's saying before you run off."
"When Johan gets the ball, things happen," Belfiore said. "He always plays dangerous ball. He's a captain-type, a take-charge guy, the type of player we need to push for the playoffs.
"I know he can help me improve. I've heard about last year's team not taking too well to his take-charge method. But as long as he puts it in a positive way, it's fine. He's always telling everybody where to play, but it's not a 'Hey, you're useless' type thing. It's very constructive."
The most noticeable change was the team's patience on offense. "Everything was controlled," said Bradford, who scored the second goal. The primary playmaker before Cruyff's arrival, Bradford is now a co-playmaker. He and Cruyff worked well together. Bradford will play a slightly different position with Cruyff in the lineup.
"I had to make more forward runs against Toronto than I've been used to," Bradford said. Bradford also took a season-high five shots.
"But I better get used to a lot of things now that Cruyff's here."