The Washington Diplomat season comes down to one final regular-season game tonight at 8 o'clock in Montreal that will decide whether the Diplomats make the playoffs and play another game as Washington's soccer franchise.

Should the Diplomats (15-16, 135 points) win tonight, they would finish the season in second place and make the playoffs automatically. A Montreal victory would send the Diplomats home to await the result of two Wednesday night games that would decide Washington's fate.

Johan Cruyff, who played well in the Dips' 5-1 rout of Toronto Sunday, will start tonight.

The Dips are in 14th place overall, with the top 15 teams qualifying for the playoffs that begin this weekend.

The teams behind Washington still in playoff contention are 15th-place Portland (16-15, 133) and 16th-place Jacksonville (16-14, 132). If the Dips lose tonight, Jacksonville (which visits Edmonton) or Portland (which hosts Los Angeles) would have to lose for the Dips probably to make the playoffs as one of the five wild-card teams.

However, if the Dips are shut out by Montreal while Portland loses but scores two goals, and Jacksonville loses but scores three goals, the three would be tied with 135 points.

But the Dips would drop to 16th place -- and out of the playoffs -- because Portland and Jacksonville have more victory points (total points minus bonus points for goals).

A Washington victory in regulation, with the Dips scoring at least three goals for the maximum nine points, could boost them into a first-round home field advantage, depending on how many goals Calgary and Fort Lauderdale score in their final games on Wednesday.

Most of the speculating and scoreboard watching will be unnecessary if the Diplomats defeat Montreal. The Dips have dominated play in all three previous games this season but lost the last two.

Washington led, 2-0, in a game for second place a month ago, but lost, 4-2, after Cruyff aggravated his groin injury and left the game.

This game is apparently the talk of the town in Montreal: a club spokesman said about 40,000 spectators are expected. Montreal, in its first year, has been one of the few pleasant surprises in the league this season.

The Manic has one of the league's most potent forward lines in Gordon Hill (16 goals and the league's sixth-leading scorer) and rookie Thompson Usiyan and Andrew Parkinson, each with 11 goals.

Montreal will be without starters Alan Willey (pulled stomach muscle) and Andy Lynch (too many penalty points). Defender Bob Smith, who fought the Cosmos' Roberto Cabanas Sunday, then punched out a referee, will be eligible since his red-card suspension doesn't take effect until five days after the infraction.