For a few fleeting weeks in January, 1979, it looked as if the Diplomats were going to land “one of the top three players in the world.” On January 5, in a front page story in the Sports section, the Washington Post announced the Dips were courting Kevin Keegan, recently named Europe’s 1978 footballer of the year.
“Gordon Bradley (Diplomat coach) has met informally with Keegan on several occasions,” General Manager John Carbray was quoted as saying. Both the Dips and the Tampa Bay Rowdies made multimillion dollar offers to Keegan, according to contemporary European newspapers. The article stated that if Keegan came to Washington he would receive at least $250,000 annually. The article stated NASL sources believed there was “an excellent chance” that Keegan would wind up in DC.
On January 23, the Post ran the banner headline: “Diplomats, Keegan Reach Agreement.” It detailed a three year deal in excess of $1 million, a sum that exceeded the team’s entire payroll in 1978. The agreement was verbally agreed too by both parties. It called for Keegan to play in about 20 of the Dips 30 games in 1979. The contract allowed Keegan to continue playing for Hamburg S.V. in the German League. He would then join the Dips on June 10, 1979, the day after Hamburg’s last match. The agreement also allowed Keegan to rejoin Hamburg by mid-August, which was the start of the new European season. However, he would stay with the Dips as far as they lasted into the playoffs, which could have run until September 9.
Three days later, however, in a story planted on page 4, the Post announced that Keegan would not be coming to the Dips, or any other NASL franchise. “Thank God I haven’t signed a contract with the Diplomats,” Keegan exclaimed. “I have been negotiating with them for three months and now the whole thing has fallen through. The whole thing is very unpleasant.” The whole thing “fell through” when Keegan discovered a clause in European Federation rules which stated that only players under contract to their clubs by August 13 would be eligible to play for the European Cup.
The Dips finished with a franchise best 19-9 regular season record before being swept out of the playoff by the John Cruyff led LA Aztecs. In their coverage of the season ending defeat, the Washington Star resurrected the notion of Keegan playing in DC.