Soaked with sweat and weak from a viral infection, Sonny Askew walked off the practice field slowly today after a vigorous one-hour workout on a steamy morning and grinned broadly.
"Washington?" he said. "It would be the ultimate. I think D.C. is great. I spent four good years there. Those people deserve a team. They really do. I just hope I can be part of it. I'd be thrilled if I can be part of it."
A veteran of four years with the defunct Washington Diplomats soccer team, Askew is one of three players competing for a position on Team America, for whom Washington is now home.
The others are Rob Olson of Fairfax County, a product of Northern Virginia's youth soccer leagues, and former Diplomat Tony Crescitelli, who says he would like nothing better than to leave his current team, the Golden Bay Earthquakes, to play for Team America, the Washington-based combination North American Soccer League franchise and U.S. national soccer team.
"I'd take a pay cut to come back to Washington," said Crescitelli, who played on the Diplomats for two years before the team folded. "I've got so many friends there."
Askew, who learned soccer in the Baltimore youth leagues and came to the Diplomats after one semester at Essex Community College, has been a soccer vagabond since the Diplomats went under. "I played in Montreal for a year and then in Atlanta for the American Soccer League for four or five months. You really get to appreciate Washington when you live somewhere else and have something to compare it with.
"I think Team America is the best thing that ever happened. I know there are some people who have criticized it, but you've got to find some way to Americanize the sport," said Askew, who has played in international competition on previous U.S. national teams and whose best season with the Diplomats was 1979, when he had eight goals and six assists for 22 points.
Crescitelli, impressive in workouts since training camp opened here Tuesday, scored 15 goals for Washington in 1980 before being obtained by Golden Bay in a dispersal draft of former Diplomat players.
"California's all right, but I really want to play in Washington. I had two great years there. If I make the team, my wife and I will buy a house there," said Crescitelli, who had seven goals and four assists for Golden Bay last season.
A native of Italy, Crescitelli grew up in Naples, where he learned soccer on the streets. He came to the United States at 11.
"We were too poor to have a soccer ball so we used anything. Rocks, tin cans, dead cats--whatever we could find," said Crescitelli. "In Italy, soccer is everything. The pope is second."
In the United States, Crescitelli settled in Long Island, where he played soccer and basketball in high school and junior high school.
"Basketball was the big sport, so that got all the attention," he said. "I was offered a basketball scholarship at North Adams (Mass.) State College, and I took it. Fortunately the basketball coach was also the soccer coach. He saw me play soccer and he said, 'Forget about basketball.' "
Drafted out of college to play for the NASL's Rochester team, Crescitelli was unable to reach a contract agreement and was traded to Washington, where he was signed by former Diplomats coach Gordon Bradley.
Olson, one of two players from the American Soccer League (the other is Jim Millinder of the Oklahoma City Slickers) to be invited to try out for Team America, has played with the Georgia Generals since graduating from William and Mary, where he played for four years.
"I'd played lots of other sports, but I didn't start playing soccer until I was 13," said Olson. "I know it's going to be tough here competing against guys who have been playing since they were 3 or 4, but I sure hope I can make the team. I'd love to play in Washington."
The way Olson recalls it, it was almost by accident that he started a soccer career. "My mom just signed me up one day," he said. "I played for Braddock Road and then the Annandale Boys Club. They have a real good program. When I went down to William and Mary, there were four or five guys who went down there with me to play soccer."