With the largest crowd in the history of soccer in Canada -- 50,755 -- creating bedlam in Olympic Stadium, the Washington Diplomats tonight staved off a second-half Montreal barrage, only to give up three goals while scoring once in the shootout to lose, 1-0, and face probable elimination from the NASL playoffs.

In the season finale for both teams, Alan Willey's goal past Washington goalkeeper Jim Brown in the fourth round of the shootout gave Montreal the victory, second place and an automatic playoff berth. Moments before, Diplomat defender Trevor Franklin watched in despair as his shootout attempt, which could have tied the round, 2-2, hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced away.

"I thought it was in," Franklin said. "I had him beat. I can't believe a ball can hit the underside of the bar and bounce out. I had him beat."

Now the Diplomats must hope 15th-place Portland (133 points) or 16th-place Jacksonville (132) can get them into the playoffs by losing Wednesday night, while scoring no more than one and two goals, respectively.

But the Washington players, most of whom seemed more disappointed than at any time this season, had more on their minds than the playoffs. This could have been the last game for the financially ailing Washington franchise.

"All us lads don't even know if we'll have jobs next week," said Brown, whose spectacular play kept Montreal from winning the game in regulation or overtime. "It's been overwhelming pressure on us to play well, while all this week reports about the team possibly folding have been in the news."

"We didn't disgrace ourselves," said Brown, whose eighth shutout tied him with Chris Turner of Los Angeles and Jan Van Beveren of Fort Lauderdale for the league lead. "To come up here with 50,000 crazies and lose in a shootout is no disgrace. We played hard."

The team lost its fourth shootout of the season and tied a league record it set last season, by playing seven shootouts in one season.

Washington, which finished in third place in the Eastern Division with a 15-17 record and 135 points, took a 1-0 lead in the shootout -- le fusillade -- on David Bradford's score. But that was Washington's last bit of joy.

Gordon Hill made it 1-1. The Dips' leading scorer, Malcolm Waldron, shot wide right. After Trevor Hebberd, who had an awful shooting night, missed wide right, Montreal's Damir Sutevkski put the Manic ahead, 2-1, in the bottom of the third round on a score Brown and Coach Ken Furphy disputed.

While the Dips argued that that Sutevski started the five-second period by rolling the ball off the 35-yard line with his hand (which would have negated the goal), Montreal fans streamed onto the field and threw smoke bombs near the goal area.

After Franklin hit the crossbar, Willey, who was supposed to miss tonight's game with a pulled stomach muscle, ended the game with a straight forward shot past Brown.

"What a stupid, senseless way to lose a game," said Furphy, referring to the shootout session, which many players dislike. "Now we'll have to sit around and wait."

Thus Montreal, in its first year of existence, enters the playoffs. The Manic was 24 points ahead of the Dips five games ago, but had lost four straight and six of eight going into tonight's game.

Montreal appeared to win the game with less than three minutes left in the 15-minute overtime. But Thompson Usiyan's goal was nullified when he was ruled offside. Still, the crowd chanted and cheered the team on.

"We didn't play a great game, as far as technique," said Montreal's Carmine Marcantonio, a former Diplomat. "But the crowd stayed up for so long and just got behind us. It was like having a 12th man on the field. There was so much drama."