The Washington Diplomats must have been more than a little jealous of the first-year Montreal Manic Tuesday night.
Montreal, a 1-0 shootout winner over the Diplomats at Olympic Stadium, came up with everything the Diplomats have wanted this season: the league's biggest crowd of the season (50,755, a Canadian record), second place in the North American Soccer League's Eastern Division and an automatic playoff berth, and a commitment from its owners to be back next year.
While the Montreal front-office staff celebrated by sipping champagne in the press box and eating chicken until 4 a.m., the Diplomats were in deep depression.
The regular-season finale may have been the last game ever for the financially struggling Diplomats. Late last night, there was still no buyer for the franchise, whose owners have lost more than $1 million this season.
Jimmy Hill, the team's majority owner, said on a radio broadcast of Tuesday's game, "The team must be sold in 10 days . . . or . . ." Hill left for England with about 20 minutes left in the scoreless game.
Newspapers in England have reported that Jimmy Hill owes Coventry City's soccer franchise -- of which he is chairman -- about $1 million. Hill, according to the reports, borrowed that money to help keep the Diplomat franchise alive until the end of the season.
Duncan Hill, Jimmy's son and the club's general manager, said, "Because of the recent news reports about our financial difficulties, new interest has come about in buying the team. I had quite useful meetings today with prospective buyers and will be meeting the rest of the week with interested people."
It was learned that a former general partner of the club, who still is based in Detroit, has spoken with NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam about moving the club back to the Michigan city, where it operated between 1977 and February of this year.
A league source has also confirmed that Andrew Mellon, a member of the wealthy Mellon family, who lives near Winchester, Va., pulled out of a prospective deal three weeks ago that would have made him a major investor.
"I cannot confirm or deny whether I've talked to anyone," Duncan Hill said yesterday evening about the Mellon report.
The Hills have become so desperate to sell the team that they have lowered their asking price from $3 million to $2 million.