Leroy DeLeon

Tim Warren
Date Published: 
Washington Star

Washington Diplomats

Leroy DeLeon

So who is the real Leroy DeLeon? Is he the flashy, colorful, devil-may-care darling of the fans of the Washington Dips, the guy you love to love if you're a Dips' fan, or love to hate if you're an opposing player or fan?

Or is the the quiet, unassuming fellow who just goes out every game and does his job, which is to put the ball into the net as often as possible?

Neither is completely true. DeLeon, however, says sometimes he feels uncomfortable about the first image, that of the player who relishes the spotlight.

"I try to keep out of other people's way," says the personable 28-year-old striker, a native of Trinidad. "Sometimes you are colorful and the fans love you. Other times you are colorful and you get kicked. You can pay a price."

Colorful or not, DeLeon is know to Dips' fans both for his flair on the soccer field and for his easy-going personality off it. He is one of the best-liked and best-known players ever to play in Washington.

He makes Washington his home now, studying electronics and playing in a strong local league in the off-season. "I like it here," he says simply. "It's just a good place to live."

Indeed, DeLeon, the Dips' all-time leading scorer with 18 goals and 11 assists in the past three years, and the Washington area go back a long way. He also played for a previous team in the city, the Darts, in 1970-71. He was third in the league in scoring the first year and sixth the second year.

"It is a more professional approach now," he says of the Dips. "With the Darts, we played at a college field, at Catholic University, instead of RFK Stadium, where we play now. It seemed like there wasn't enough room. We'd play before 800 fans, sometimes more, and the majority of them were foreigners.

"Really, it was more like we were a college team that a professional team. There weren't many fans, but they were close to the players, and the players generally know a lot of the fans."

Even then, DeLeon was a favorite of the Darts' small but fiercely loyal fan club. His popularity as a member of the Diplomats has grown so that he frequently is stopped on the street by one of the increasing number of soccer enthusiasts in the Washington area.

"I have a lot of fans here," he acknowledges. "I like it when they see me and want to talk to me. Perhaps I don't make as much of an effort to go out to the fans as much as some other players do. That's something I've got to think about."

DeLeon is one of a handful of players who have been in the NASL since its founding in 1967. He originally signed with the New York Generals, after talent scouts spotted him while he was playing in a tournament in Jamaica.

He played for the Generals for two years. In 1969, he returned to Trinidad, where he played for the national team, and, in his own words, did "nothing."

DeLeon was sent to Miami. He spent a year there, didn't like it, and went back to Washington, where he caught on with the Dips in 1974.

As one who has watched the NASL grow from a fledgling operation, with all the traumas of franchise shifts, foldings, and the like, DeLeon is in a good position to assess the current position of the league.

He says, laughing, "You know, sometimes I feel like I've been through a war. There were very difficult times. I remember playing for the Generals in Yankee Stadium before two or three thousand fans, and the stadium holds something like 60,000. We felt like mice scurrying around a big, empty house."

He continued, "The league is much harder now. The teams are more balanced, the foreign players are better. The American players are much better and there are more of them.

"Everyone is taking soccer much more seriously. I really see soccer growing in the NASL, and in the rest of the country in the next five years. I just want to grow with it."

Throughout his years in the league, DeLeon has maintained his basic approach to the game. "I'm basically the same sort of player. I use a little bit of power, a little bit of finesse.

"As a striker, I have to take my chances. I have to show aggressiveness." He paused for a moment and gave a little laugh. "You know, that's something I've never had any trouble with."

With acceptance in Washington and throughout the NASL as one of the leading soccer players in North America, DeLeon says he is happy about the way things have turned out for him.

"I can accept the fact that soccer is just catching on, and that I'm not as well known in America as I am in Trinidad," he notes, "I just tell myself, 'You know you're one of the best players in the league.'"

There are other trappings of fame he doesn't especially miss, though.

"I won't do any panty hose commercials," he says in a deadpan voice. "I think I would look silly."