Gordon Bradley says that interest in soccer in the United States is exactly where it should be -- now that the building has collapsed into the foundation.

Yes, professional soccer is back.

The American Soccer League, established May 5, is scheduled to begin play in April 1988 with six or eight teams. It is not to be confused with the United Soccer Association, the National Professional Soccer League, the North American Soccer League or the first American Soccer League. The USA and the NPSL merged in 1968 to become the NASL, which folded in 1984. The first ASL, a smaller league that existed in virtual obscurity for about 50 years, folded in 1983.

Two of the new ASL teams will be based in the Washington area. Known as F.C. Washington and the Washington Diplomats, they are not to be confused with the Washington Internationals, Lancers, Whips, Darts, first Diplomats, second Diplomats, or Team America.

The Diplomats made their debut 1 1/2 weeks ago, defeating the U.S. under-20 national team and tying the Honduran national team in the Ambassador Cup tournament. F.C. Washington is expected to name a coach later this week and play at least one exhibition game this summer.

Another ASL team will be in Baltimore. Known as the Maryland Bays, it is not be confused with the first Baltimore Bays, second Baltimore Bays or the Baltimore Comets. The Maryland Bays, who will hold open tryouts Thursday, Saturday and Sunday (sites and times to be announced), are scheduled to play their first game July 29 against Southampton, an English First Division club.

Bradley, F.C. Washington's president, and Lincoln Phillips, former Howard coach who was named Maryland's coach and general manager yesterday, both played for the first Bays. Phillips later was player/coach for the Darts, who won ASL championships in 1968 and 1969, and a player for the second Bays and the Comets. Bradley later played and coached against the first Diplomats, then went on to become coach of the second Diplomats.

"We really started at the wrong end," Bradley said of pro soccer's previous failures. "We started at the top of the pyramid without a solid foundation. We put teams in places like Yankee Stadium and RFK Stadium, and we thought the American public would just run into the stadiums -- and they didn't. But I don't think soccer would be played the way it is without the NASL. The NASL left a tremendous foundation."

Starting with 17 teams in 1968, the NASL survived after dropping to five teams in 1969 before stabilizing between 10 and 12 teams during the early 1970s. It expanded to 24 teams for the 1978, '79 and '80 seasons before spiraling down to 14 in 1982 and extinction in '84.

Bradley tried to get another league started but couldn't get financial backers. "In 1983 and '84, I was working with a budget figure of $1 million," he said. "I spoke with a lot of potential investors, and they were not interested for that kind of money. So I said let's come all the way down."

With a structure that involves a three-year commitment of $250,000 per team, a yearly salary cap of $50,000 per team, few foreign players and limited travel, the ASL has become reality.

"It was a figure everybody seemed to feel comfortable with," Bradley said. "We've had no trouble raising this kind of money. And since we're keeping it on the Eastern seaboard, we'll be cutting our losses to transportation, hotels and things like that. So far we've had nothing but good comments, especially about the rule limiting the number of imports {players who are neither U.S. citizens nor resident aliens} to three in the first year and two in the second. And we've been approached by an abundance of investors."The Bidding Begins

With the five charter franchises established, the league is looking at offers from investors in Boston, Philadelphia, Hartford, Long Island and the Norfolk area to round out the league.

And there is talk of establishing divisions in Florida (Tampa, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville and Orlando); the Midwest (St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati); Texas (Houston, Dallas and San Antonio) and merging with the Western Soccer Alliance (a West Coast pro league that recently finished its third season with teams in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, Portland and Seattle), with the teams playing almost exclusively within their regions until a playoff.

But, said Phillips, "We do not want to have steak ideas with hot dog money. We do not want to go too fast like the previous league did. For now, we are not in this league to win championships. We are here to develop players who can play creative soccer and score goals."

Enter John Koskinen and John Liparini. Successful businessmen, they are among a group of soccer addicts Phillips likes to call "the soccer people." They also have plunked down $250,000 for an ASL team -- Liparini for Maryland, Koskinen for F.C. Washington.

Like many American adults, Koskinen was drawn to soccer by his children. His son plays on a club team, and he is coach of his daughter's Maryland State Cup championship team. Koskinen, who has a U.S. Soccer Federation Class C coaching license, also serves as the National Capital Soccer League's media director.

"We're all people who have grown up with the game," said Koskinen. "None of the people involved are interested in becoming public figures because they own sports franchises. And if we don't gross dollar one -- which we will -- then the most we could lose is $250,000."

"American soccer players have to have someplace to play," said Liparini, who played on Ramapo (N.J.) High School's first soccer team, was a season-ticket holder whenever there was a pro team in Washington, and who has ended up watching and coaching his children's club teams. "We want to develop players, develop a following and make coming to games a good experience."

Phillips, a member of the USSF's national coaching staff, said, "Things are very different now than they were 10 or 15 years ago. You are now dealing with the second generation of soccer players. Today's doctors and lawyers are people who have played soccer before. They recognize and appreciate the game, and they are thirsty to watch good soccer. And the kids who are still playing want the chance to be able to play another level of soccer after college. So, the demand for a new league is there."

"There's a place for soccer in this country," Bradley said. "And the young people are going to bring it into this country whether we try to stop it or not. They've got a hold of it. It's not an imported sport now. It's an American sport to these kids.

"But when you're talking about making money and losing money, that's a different ball game."