For the Washington Diplomats, this was a game played at midfield without the midfielder, Johan Cruyff.
Cruyff's groin muscle still is tender and the Dips' playoff chances still are tenuous after a 3-1 loss to the Minnesota Kicks last night at RFK Stadium. Because of the heavy rains yesterday and because of Cruyff's recent groin pull, the Dips decided not to risk further harm to their Dutch man of magic.
What was harmed was their playoff chances as Ron Futcher scored three goals for the Kicks before the crowd of 7,771, the second-smallest here this year.
"Now, when we need him most, he is not fit to play," said Diplomat Coach Ken Furphy, whose team has been depleted by injuries at the most crucial juncture of the year. The most recent and crushing pain for the Dips came when Eddie Colquhoun, defender/assistant coach, suffered a sprained shoulder last night. He will miss three weeks.
Still, it is Cruyff who brings in the crowds and, when he's healthy, the victories.
But Cruyff has missed four of the seven games the Dips have played since he joined them and he has played only one game from start to finish.
Not having Cruyff available hurt the Dips last night and so did the team's own mistakes.
"All three goals they scored tonight came on elementary mistakes we made," said Furphy. "On the first one, Malcolm Waldron just watched it go in the net. On the second one, (goalie) Jimmy Brown was just out of position. And on the last one, (defender) Peter Carr just got beat."
The Dips -- once 8-3 -- are 12-13 and have 105 points, eight points behind the Montreal Manic.
This season, giving up the first goal of a game has been disastrous for the Diplomats. In 10 of their 13 losses they have yielded the game's first score.
So when Futcher took a well-placed lob from Don Masson and headed in his 11th goal of the year at 10:57, the Kicks had a 1-0 edge.
But this time, the Dips retaliated. David McGill's header from 15 yards out at 16:48 was the first good shot on goal the Dips had. It was not a goal, but it was a start.
Then, when Minnesota defender Alan Merrick tripped the Dips' Ole Mikkelson in the goalie box at 23:04, the Dips' were awarded a penalty kick.
That gave Malcom Waldron an opportunity to take his shot at Kick goalie Tino Lettieri.
Wadron lined a shot toward the lower right corner of the goal. Lettieri dived and touched the ball, but couldn't stop it. It was Waldron's 13th goal of the year. It was also his fifth score in five penalty kicks.
The 1-1 tie didn't last. Futcher was in the right spot when a loose ball - a Mark Moran shot that had been deflected by Dip goaltender Brown -- drifted toward him. He scored his second goal of the half and 12th of the season into a wideopen net at 26:41.
It was a further nuisance to the Dips when Colquhoun made a marvelous header -- while in the diving, horizontal position -- in frnt of the Dip goal midway through the first peirod and landed on his right shoulder. Peter Baralic replaced Colquhoun shortly thereafter.
Goal No. 3 for Futcher came at 63:18, and a 3-1 Kick advantage. Masson placed a high lob in front of the Dips' goal, where both Futcher and Carr were on the run. Futcher had a one-step advantage and as the ball started on its downward arc, both players jumped simultaneously.
Futcher got to it first and as Brown left the goal to move toward Futcher on the right side, Futcher lofted a header that Brown had no play on. It was Futcher's 13th score of the year.