"This is a team to be reckoned with."
Golden Bay Earthquakes Coach Don Popovic
"If they're America's best hope, then America is in trouble." -- San Diego Sockers goalie Volkmar Gross.
Most teams with a .500 record, an unproductive offense and mediocre attendance would seem to be in trouble. But according to Team America's management, coach and players, there's nothing wrong with Washington's North American Soccer League franchise.
After eight regular-season games, Team America, born out of the confusion that is professional soccer in this country, is 4-4, in third place in the NASL's Southern Division, and has scored one goal less than it has allowed.
In three home games, Team America's average attendance is 11,222, seventh-best in the 12-team league. But team officials look at these figures in a positive way.
"We didn't set any goals or progress charts before the season," said General Manager Beau Rogers, whose team will play Tampa Bay tonight at RFK Stadium at 8 (WWDC-1260). "That's not realistic. Either you're excited when you shouldn't be, or you're disappointed when you shouldn't be.
"I think what we've accomplished so far, especially given the amount of time we had, has been outstanding."
Team America's play has been inconsistent. At times, it has performed well, as in 1-0 victories over Seattle and Tulsa. But it also played miserably in a 3-1 loss to Tampa Bay.
"With some luck we could be 6-2," said Coach Alkis Panagoulias. "I am very pleased with all of the players. We have shown that we are one of the best teams in our division."
Panagoulias, who came to the team after a successful career in Greece on both the club and national level, has built Team America along European lines. He stresses "power soccer" built upon sound defense, and the team has lacked coordination and imagination on offense as a result.
"They do nothing but sit back and wait," said Seattle Coach Laurie Calloway after his team's 3-2 decision over Team America on May 18.
"They do not send their fullbacks ahead. They cannot sit back forever and have nothing go in against them. They will give up a lot of scrambly goals with that style of play."
Predictably, Team America's obvious weakness this season has been its offense, which has scored only eight goals, third worst in the league. Team America has outshot its opponents, 138-122, but has scored more than one goal in a game only twice.
The inability of its front line to finish has kept the team from dominating its division, despite the only nonlosing record.
"We do everything well but score," said defender Jeff Durgan, the team's captain. "That last step has given us problems. But if we keep creating the chances, the goals will come."
Injuries also have played a large role in the club's problems. Eight players have missed at least one game with injuries, and forward Alan Green, defender Hayden Knight and goalie Arnie Mausser have been sidelined for longer. Panagoulias has not had his entire squad healthy for any game this season, and has not started the same lineup more than once.
"When everybody is healthy, there will be competition for positions, which is good," said forward Tony Crescitelli. "But right now, everybody pretty much knows who will play. I know I want to play, Andy (Parkinson) wants to play . . . we need to get our whole team to be competitive."
Although ineffective offensively, Team America has been one of the best defensive teams in the league. Goalkeeper Paul Hammond is second in the league with a 0.97 goals-against average, and Mausser has a 0.87 average in two games. Durgan and fullback Bruce Savage have played particularly well, and the Washington team has allowed only nine goals, second-lowest in the league. Three of its victories have been shutouts.
Team America's schedule has also worked to its disadvantage. In one nine-day stretch from May 18-27, Team America played five games in three different time zones.
Nevertheless, it emerged with a respectable 1-2-2 record, including ties against Watford of the English First Division and Dynamo Minsk, the Soviet Union's club champion.
"If any European team had done what we did, they would have said it was phenomenal," said Durgan.
Poor scheduling also has been blamed for the low home attendance. Two games fell on holiday weekends, a third came on a Wednesday night.
"I take complete responsibility for the schedule," said NASL President Howard Samuels, one of Team America's strongest supporters. "I never should have let the schedule go out as it did, with so many weeknight games. There is a 41 percent difference in attendance between the weekend and the week, and we should have taken that into account."
Team America is hoping Sunday's home game against Fort Lauderdale, which will be followed by a Beach Boys concert, will draw well.
"I would be disappointed if they didn't get 30,000," said Samuels.