|1976 headline from the Washington Post.|
At the start of the 1977 season, Leroy DeLeon (pronounced Dilly-on) was not only the leading scorer in Diplomats history, he was the all-time leading scorer in Washington pro soccer history, having scored 15 goals during his two seasons with the short-lived Washington Darts, in addition to 18 while with the Dips.
Yet, these distinctions belied a disquiet few, if any, knew about. "I never felt relaxed playing with the Washington Diplomats," he told Donald Huff of the Washington Post. "If I scored a goal, everybody was your friend. If we lost and I didn't score, no one would speak to me."
Despite this perception, DeLeon "really loved Washington." He was traded to the San Jose Earthquakes for Mark Liveric just three games into the 1977 campaign. "I didn't see this coming. It really hit me kind of hard," he said at the time. "I was playing as well as anyone on the team."
The reason for the trade had nothing to do with DeLeon's attitude or game performance, but could be summed up in an age old adage in professional sports, "to get quality you have to give up quality." So stated Diplomats coach Dennis Viollet, who admitted to "always" having a desire to acquire Liveric. Neither player had scored in the 1977 season when the trade took place.
The lack of communication between Viollet and DeLeon became readily apparent in the aftermath of the swap. "Every time Dennis brought in another English player, I was switched to another position," DeLeon felt.
"Maybe he (Viollet) just wanted an excuse to bench me. But he couldn't because I was playing as well as everybody else. Everything was English, English, English. I had to fit in around them."
"I'm surprised he felt that way," Viollet admitted. "I've always considered him one of the most skilled players around and maybe that's why I demanded more from him."
Despite taking the trade hard, DeLeon demonstrated the class that made him a fan favorite. "Time will tell," he reflected when asked how he thought Liveric would fit in with his new team. "I hope Washington wins for Dennis' sake."
San Jose was the clear winner in the transaction, as DeLeon finished the year with 6 goals and 10 assists, all with the Earthquakes. Liveric posted 2 goals and 1 assist with the Dips.
Neither Viollet nor Liveric would be with the club for very long after DeLeon's departure. Viollet was relieved of his coaching duties with the Dips in the midst of the 1977 season, and Liveric would leave Washington to head back west with the Oakland Stompers in 1978.