Washington Diplomats Coach Stojan "Niki" Nikolic and three players from El Salvador did not accompany the American Soccer League team to last weekend's match in Florida and they will not travel to Miami for the team's final game Friday.
Diplomats owner Julio Pinon said the coach and players are not traveling with the team to avoid additional travel expenditures. Twelve players, assistant coach Silvino Gonzalo and three other team officials traveled to Boca Raton, Fla., last Saturday for the Diplomats' 2-1 overtime loss to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Forward Mirko Castillo already was in the state and met the club before the match.
The Diplomats (5-14) have lost eight straight games and 12 of 13 since Nikolic replaced John Ellinger, who resigned in May because of personal disagreements with Pinon.
However, Pinon insisted he did not fire Nikolic, who also coaches the Hershey Impact of the American Indoor Soccer Association.
"I did not fire him," Pinon said. "We're trying to save money any way we can."
Nikolic did not travel with the team because he lives in Hershey, Pa., and it would have been an additional expense, Pinon said. Gonzalo has served as an interim coach in each of the franchise's three seasons after head coaches either resigned or were fired.
"Julio said he doesn't want any more expenses so he told me not to go," Nikolic said. "He told me I don't need to be at practice and he was going to use the assistant coach at the games."
Two El Salvadoran players -- forward Salvador Coreas and midfielder Luis Zapata -- returned to their country to play for another professional team, C.D. Aguila of San Salvador. Pinon said C.D. Aguila President Carlos Prieto called him and asked if the players could return to train for the upcoming season, which begins Aug. 15.
Coreas's brother Carlos, a midfielder, stayed in Washington but is no longer with the team. He will try to pursue an indoor soccer career after the ASL season ends, Pinon said.
Since winning the ASL's first championship in 1988, the Diplomats have been plagued with financial and personnel problems. A former goalkeeper, Charles Arndt, accused Pinon of issuing a paycheck in May that was returned for insufficient funds. Pinon denies the charge.
An RFK Stadium official said in June -- and again last week -- that the team is behind in rent payments. In all, 30 players have worn a Diplomats uniform this season. Of the 19 players in an early-season team photo, six remain.
Owners of the Washington area's ASL teams -- the Diplomats, Washington Stars and Maryland Bays -- have had preliminary discussions about a possible merger to alleviate financial strains and poor attendance. Stars owner John Koskinen said last Saturday that the group had not recently discussed the merger plan, but he hopes "for a resolution by Labor Day."