Team America, Washington's latest soccer team in residence, makes its first attempt to wedge a spot in the hearts of area sports fans today.
The D.C.-based national soccer squad in training for the 1986 World Cup will face the Roughnecks from Tulsa in a 5 p.m. North American Soccer League match at RFK Stadium.
With a season-ticket base of only 2,000, Team America officials are hoping the predicted rain veers away and does not drown an expected big box-office sale.
In its NASL debut 15 days ago in Seattle, Team America won a shootout from the Sounders, 1982 Soccer Bowl runners-up, after the teams played a scoreless draw.
Alkis Panagoulias, the Team America coach, would not be averse to a similar result today. He admits to concentrating on defensive soccer and claims to be under no pressure to provide a wide-open game to attract fans.
"People should understand what we are trying to do and support the team," Panagoulias said yesterday. "This is not Washington's team but America's team. It is a national team in training, an experiment.
"No one puts a national team in a league, but we have, because it gives us 30 strong opponents. It's a test for us.
"But our standing in the league means nothing. It is more important for us to do well internationally. The strength of every nation is measured on what the national team does, not by league games. It would be a very big thing for the U.S.A. to field a strong national side and these players need moral support."
Some familiar faces to area soccer fans are midfielder Sonny Askew and strikers Tony Crescitelli and Alan Green, all of whom performed for the Washington Diplomats.
"This is better now than it was with the Diplomats," Crescitelli said. "Here we are all Americans and we respect each other's ability. It's an 11-man game and everybody puts out 100 percent effort.
"With the Diplomats, everything was centered around Johan Cruyff. Even though everybody spoke English, we did not have good communication on the field. And the Americans had to fight for their jobs, because some people looked down on them.
"I know most people don't expect us to do well this year, but we went into Seattle and beat last year's No. 2 team. Tomorrow we want to show people that wasn't a fluke. Our main goal is to qualify for the World Cup, something no U.S. team has ever done, but we'd like to do well in the league, too."
Team America has not played a formal game since its triumph in Seattle and faces another week of idleness after today's contest. Then it will play six games in 13 days, including international exhibitions against Watford of England in Kingston, Jamaica, May l9, the night after a league game here, and Dynamo Minsk, the Soviet champion, in St. Louis May 25.
Panagoulias will start the same lineup today that shut down the Sounders, although defender Rudy Glenn, obtained from Chicago, will dress and see some action.
Paul Hammond once again will be the goalkeeper, with Arnie Mausser recovering from bruised ribs. Hammond, who played with Seattle a year ago, shared the league lead in shutouts with Winston Dubose, the man in the Tulsa goal today, as each recorded nine.
Dubose also has one shutout this season, as the Roughnecks edged Tampa Bay, 1-0, after dropping an earlier 4-3 decision to the Rowdies.
Despite its 1-0 record, Team America has only four points in the standings, to Tulsa's 10. Shootout victories earn four points, compared to six for regulation triumphs, and a team gets a point for each goal it scores, up to three. Panagoulias considers the system ridiculous.
"Americans have to be educated in draws," Panagoulias said. "A draw is a nice result in soccer. Italy played draws in its first three World Cup games and won the Cup.
"But here everybody's asking for spectacle. That's why FIFA (the International Football Federation) doesn't believe in us. They think we're a circus." There will be elements of circus at RFK today, as the list of giveaways includes orchids, perfume, baseball caps, hot dogs, beer and soda. With a coach nicknamed Alkie and a cigarette company for a sponsor, Team America at least figures to provide a few extra kicks this summer.