The Washington Diplomats, struggling to make the playoffs, may yet receive help from injured Johan Cruyff, who said yesterday he hopes to play Sunday at RFK Stadium against Toronto.
"My injury is coming along better than expected," said Cruyff, 34, who has been hindered by a groin injury since joining the club July 1. "I intend to practice with the team today. I've been working on my own in my backyard and I hope to play Sunday."
If Cruyff does play, it will be a major surprise, since Diplomat owners Jimmy Hill and his son Duncan, the general manager, said this week they had given up hope that the Dutchman would play again this season.
Cruyff said he wasn't "angry" at the club for apparently giving up on him. "There is a lot at stake for everybody. The stupid thing we all did was rush my playing," said Cruyff, who has played in only one full game. "It looks like we can make the playoffs. But it's so crazy. We're only a few points out of second place and a few points away from elimination."
Diplomat Coach Ken Furphy said Cruyff would be a welcome sight Sunday, but is more worried about his American-player situation. NASL rules say at least three American players must be on the field at all times, and Furphy will be hard-pressed finding three healthy enough to play.
Midfielder David McGill broke his right ankle Wednesday night against the Cosmos and is out for the rest of the year. Several other American players are ailing.
"I'll have to see how fit Johan is. If he's fit, he'll play," Furphy said. "But if Johan plays, I would worry about a letdown if he had to come off. The last time he played, he had to come off, and the players and the crowd went through a letdown. I hope he can play."
Washington, tied for 14th place, is 10 points behind second-place Montreal in the Eastern Division, but only six points in front of 17th-place Edmonton. The top 15 teams advance to the NASL playoffs.
Washington didn't help itself Wednesday night, losing to the defending league champion Cosmos, 4-2, at Giants Stadium. Sunday's game against Toronto (6-24) is almost a must game. But even if the Dips lose Sunday, they might make the playoffs by winning their final regular-season game Tuesday at Montreal. Before meeting the Dips, Le Manic must play the Cosmos Sunday night at Giants Stadium.
Washington is confident it will make the playoffs. The club has announced that playoff tickets are on sale.
It is crucial for the future of the franchise that the Dips make the playoffs. The Hills acknowledged this week that the club may fold unless they can sell it or find a wealthy investor.
Cruyff indicated he would like to play here next season, but said he wanted whatever franchise was here to have a three-year commitment to the community.
"I don't want what happened last year and this year to happen again," Cruyff said. "If the franchise (situation) stays like it is now, it will fold. If the entire organization -- on the field, front office, public relations, marketing, the whole thing -- was run like it should be, I'm convinced we could draw 25,000."