There is good news and bad news for the Washington Diplomats.
First the good news: Johan Cruyff will start today's 2:30 p.m. game against Toronto in RFK Stadium. The bad news? Many players and staff members said this could be the final home game for this financially scuffling soccer franchise.
"This could be the last home game ever," injured striker Paul Cannell said after a short workout yesterday. "Build this thing up, will you? Maybe we can get people out in full force this time."
"I hope this isn't the last home game for us, but it could be," midfielder David Bradford said.
The owners of the Diplomats, who may lose $1 million to $2 million this year, are frantically seeking a major investor or buyer. Jimmy Hill, the pricipal owner, and son Duncan, the general manager, have said it is likely Washington will have a team next year, while acknowledging they might not be part of it.
The club's RFK offices have been buzzing with rumors this week about who will have a job when the season is over. Several players said yesterday that they would not be playing this game for the Hills, but for themselves and their pride.
"The uncertainty over the future of the club has affected everybody the last month," Coach Ken Furphy said. "It's been impossible to keep that atmosphere away from the team. I think the players have done a good job lately, considering all the outside issues that have been dominating the news. It's been impossible to ignore."
The team has lost 13 of its last 19 games, and is in the midst of an exciting playoff race. The Dips are 14-16 with 126 points and are tied for 14th in the overall standings. Sixteenth-place Jacksonville has 125 points, going into yesterday's games. The top 15 teams will qualify for the playoffs that will start Friday.
If the Dips are to qualify, they must put aside the recent turmoil and poor performances and beat Toronto, as they've done three times this season. With a victory today, the Dips could go into Tuesday's finale against division rival Montreal and gain an automatic playoff berth by beating the second-place Manic. Montreal will travel to meet the Cosmos this afternoon.
"There's no easy game in this league," Washington defender Benny Dargle said. "But if there was one, this would be it. We have to win."
Dargle, suffering with a pulled stomach muscle and injured groin, should be resting. But he has to start and, short of death, must play the entire game. With starting midfielder David McGill out for the season (he had foot surgery yesterday), Furphy has been pressed to find three North Americans to start.
Dale Baxter, a substitute goalkeeper from Canada, may have to replace starter Jimmy Brown if one of the North Americans is injured.
Furphy said he doesn't know who will start at which position. One thing for sure: Cruyff, who hasn't played since July 19, will play. In his only full game since joining the team July 1, Cruyff scored a goal and set up the other in a 2-0 victory over Toronto.
The 34-year-old Dutchman said he felt "fine" after working out an hour Friday. And Furphy said that, although Cruyff "isn't match fit, he looked better in practice than he's looked since he's been here." Owners Meet Monday -
Owners of the 21 North American Soccer League teams will meet in Chicago Monday and Tuesday in a session that Duncan Hill of the Washington Diplomats called "crucial to the future of the league."
Hill is general manager of the Dips and one of the team's owners.
Most of the league's teams have lost money this season, and it is reported that as many as seven teams might be terminated before the 1982 season. The Diplomats are one of the teams in financial trouble.
With the playoffs beginning Friday, it is doubtful the league would identify immediately any teams that would fold. But it is very likely, according to league sources, that such decisions will be made then. NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam said earlier this summer that several franchises would not be in existence next season.