Dips Fan Day

Dips Fan Day

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Joe Horvath Fan Club

Words are like spouses, choose them carefully- a maxim Gordon Bradley should have kept in mind in the early months of 1980.

Madison Square Garden Corporation (MSG), the Diplomats owner, had wedged a crow bar in its wallet and signed a trio of midfielders that any club in the world would envy. First, on February 20, the team reported it had signed Juan Lozano (http://washingtondiplomats.blogspot.com/2014/01/). One hundred and twenty hours later, the team made the bombshell announcement it had acquired Johan Cruyff. Then, on March 6, just as delirious Dips fans were finally coming off the euphoria of Cruyff's addition, MSG called one more press conference. The purpose? To declare the final piece of the franchise's new triumvirate, Wim Jansen, had come to terms.

It was an impressive feat for any team in any sport. However, one question immediately came to the collective minds of those who covered the Diplomats. What would Joe Horvath's role be in wake of these new additions?

"Horvath," Coach Gordon Bradley bluntly and callously stated, "now becomes expendable. He will probably be playing somewhere in the NASL, but not here."

One can only imagine the incredulity with which Horvath received this news. Just one year previous, he had set a franchise record for assists in a single season with 18, and was the team's econd leading scorer. Now, he was being cast off like Steve Bannon at a party hosted by Jared Kushner.

Bradley's words would haunt him far sooner than he expected. The Dips suffered three major injuries during the preseason. These injuries affected defenders who had all started at some point in 1979. First, Jim Steele was recovering from a serious knee injury, incurred while playing indoor soccer for the Pittsburgh Spirit of the MISL, that required surgery.

Don Droege broke a bone in his foot during early training drills in February and was not expected to be game ready until May. Mike Dillon broke his ankle ten minutes into an exhibition game against the Memphis Rogues on March 12 and was lost for the season.

The defense was so depleted that Bradley was forced to start two midfielders, Gary Darrell and Carmine Marcantonio, to replace Droege and Dillon when the team began the 1980 campaign in Tampa on March 30. If the injury bug had seemed bothersome before the season opener, it would now turn exasperating.

Wim Jansen pulled a groin muscle early in the second half against the Rowdies and was replaced. Without him, "the midfield play sagged considerably," reported the Post's John Feinstein. The Dips allowed a goal in the final 150 seconds of the game and ended up losing, 3-2, via a shootout.

The goal that tied the match seemed to materialize when a communication breakdown occurred between Dips goalkeeper Bill Irwin and midfielder turned defender Gary Darrell. It was clear that Washington needed to obtain at least one more natural defender, if not two.

On March 27, The Washington Post reported Bradley had been trying to trade Horvath "for a defender ever since Dillon was hurt," but had been unable to swing a deal to his liking. Making the situation more difficult was the fact that Horvath had refused to report to training camp in Jacksonville, Florida, after he was declared "expendable" by Bradley.

The clubs second game of the season was one week after the loss in Tampa, a bruising 2-1 setback in Tulsa to the Roughnecks, in which Cruyff had to be pulled because of a foot injury. This was hardly the start MSG expected after investing $4 million (an astronomical sum in 1980) in the past two months. Adding insult to injury, Bradley placed the blame on midfield play.

"We're not creating the scoring opportunities we should," he told the Washington Star. "Therefore, we're not capitalizing. Our ball out of the midfield is not coming fast enough. By the time it is coming, the forwards are getting closed down."

On Monday, April 7, the Diplomats began preparing for their 1980 home debut against the Philadelphia Fury, and now it was Lozano who was injured. The 24-year-old had been hampered by an injury to his left instep since training camp, but it had become a serious impediment recently.

For Horvath, Jupiter had now aligned with Mars. Bradley phoned the man he termed "expendable" less than a month before and asked him to join the team. Horvath agreed. "The reason I told him I wanted to make a trade," Bradley explained, "was because Cruyff, Jansen and Lozano are all play makers like he is. Horvath will give us added depth, something we need in view of the injuries. If the doctor says Lozano can't play, I won't hesitate to start Joe."

Joe Horvath in action in the Dips 1980 home opener.
Team physician Dr. Carl MacCartee advised Lozano that he should rest for at least one week, perhaps two, less the injury become chronic.

Horvath's 180 degree swing on the Diplomats 1980 depth chart was nothing less than astonishing. His photo and profile were not included, nor was he listed on the official roster, in the team media guide. Now, he would be the starting left midfielder in their home opener.

A clue to how much of a surprise Horvath's presence on the pitch could be seen in the jersey he was issued. The Adidas logo on the 1980 Diplomat jerseys was placed on the right side of the upper chest. Horvath's jersey, which must have been prepared between April 10 and the 13th, employed the outdated look of the Adidas logo dotting the "I" in Dips (see right).

Horvath showed Gordon Bradley, and 24,000 spectators, how much the Dips needed him, scoring the game clinching goal and assisting on another in the Dips 3-1 victory. The Hungarian "was all over the field, stealing passes, short circuiting Fury offensive surges before they got started and dealing off soft passes to teammates," according to the Post.

After the match, Horvath stated he had never lost faith in his ability to contribute, no matter who he had to compete against for playing time. "It is great playing with Cruyff, but I can play, too. I think I blend in well."

When asked how his playing time might be affected when Lozano did return, Horvath acknowledged it was ultimately Bradley's decision, simply stating, "He's (Bradley) the coach."

A group of avid fans was not interested in waiting for Lozano's return to resolve the matter, however. In a petition dated just one day after the victory over Philadelphia, they implored Dips management not only to keep Horvath on the roster, but to ensure that he was "part of the Diplomat starting team."

This group clearly understood Joe Horvath's worth to the Diplomats, and knew his play against the Fury was no one game fluke. At the end of June, he was the team's third leading scorer with five goals and five assists (15 points).

Unfortunately, his 1980 season would come to an abrupt end against the Timbers in Portland on July 2. Fifteen minutes into the second half, Horvath went down with a knee injury that Dr. MacCartee later pronounced to be a tear in the anterior cruciate of his left knee.

Horvath did not seem particularly upset as he sat on the trainer's table after the match. When asked if he understood the severity of the injury, Cruyff said, "Oh, he understands. Joe doesn't say much, but he understands."

It was a disheartening end for a true fan favorite in Washington.

Horvath receives congratulations from Alan Green, Sonny Askew & Wim Jansen after scoring against the Fury.