It would be difficult to find two North American Soccer League teams with more contrasting seasons than the Washington Diplomats and Atlanta Chiefs, who meet today at 2:30 p.m. in RFK Stadium.
On April 6, in the second game of the season, Washington's Jimmy Brown scored the first goal by a NASL goalkeeper and the Dips defeated the Chiefs in Atlanta, 3-2. It was Washington's first victory on the way to an 8-3 start, and Atlanta's second defeat in a dull, unsuccessful beginning.
Things have changed dramatically since then.
Atlanta (17-11) has won six of its last eight games, 11 straight at home, and appears ready to clinch the Southern Division title and make its first playoff appearance in the franchise's four-year history.
Washington has lost 12 of its last 17 games and is clinging to 15th place -- the final playoff spot.
At the beginning of the season, so few fans were attending Chief games at Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium there was talk the franchise would fold or relocate. But in its last home game, moved to cozy DeKalb Memorial Stadium, a high school field, the team was only 300 shy of filling the 15,000-seat facility.
The Dips attracted only 16,000 in their last two home games and the club's offices at RFK Stadium have been getting questions whether the franchise will return next season. Dips' General Manager Duncan Hill said he "expects" the club to remain in Washington next season and added that he still is negotiating with a prospective major partner. s
It's difficult to decide whether the Dips have had more troubles on the field, or off. In losing to Chicago, 3-2, Wednesday night at home, the Dips, for the third time this season, lost a two-goal lead.
Help may be arriving today, however. A team spokesman said Johan Cruyff may be healthy enough to play against Atlanta.
The Chiefs may be too much for the Dips, even with Cruyff. Atlanta striker Brian Kidd, the NASL's second leading scorer, has 21 goals in 22 games since coming to the team April 25 from the Bolton Wanderers in England. All the Washington forwards combined have not scored as many goals as Kidd.
With Kidd on the front line is Paul Child, who has 12 goals and seven assists. Keith Furphy, son of Dip Coach Ken Furphy, has asked to be traded, but still has scored eight goals and seven assists despite limited playing time.
The Diplomats' hopes for a victory rest on the defense's ability to deal with Kidd and Child. Washington's all-field player David McGill, who has improved through the season, hopes to play despite a pulled left calf muscle. Without the persistent McGill in the lineup, the Dips will have trouble attacking.