Wizards defender Michael Harrington went from devastation to jubilation with one mighty shot.
Harrington atoned for a costly handball penalty in the final minute of the first half with a goal early in the second half that enabled the Wizards to pull out a 1-1 tie with Chicago on Sunday at CommunityAmerica Ballpark.
The Wizards, playing for their playoff lives, needed a victory and the three points that go with it, in the worst way. But Kansas City, 8-10-9, salvaged a point with the tie, and with 33 points, stayed on the fringe of the playoff picture, one point behind FC Dallas and Colorado for the final spot with three matches to go.
“Games like this, which are playoff-caliber games because everyone is fighting for points,’’ said Wizards coach Curt Onalfo, “it comes down to a play or two ”
The first play was a costly one.
The Wizards had difficulty clearing the ball in front of their penalty area in the 45th minute of the first half and allowed Chicago’s John Thorrington to play a high pass to striker Brian McBride at the far post.
Harrington, a second-year player, leaped in the air alongside McBride, but the ball struck his hand for the penalty.
“I tried to jump up, get a head on it, and flick it out of bounds,” said Harrington, “but I kind of lost my balance. As I lost my balance, my hands were up, and it grazed my hand. I think it was going out of bounds, but he decided to call it ”
Cuauthtemoc Blanco converted the kick in the first minute of stoppage time, and that was not a good omen for the Wizards. They entered the game 0-9-1 when allowing the first goal of the game.
Harrington had 15 minutes to think about the handball during halftime.
“I was like, ‘I can either let that get me down and affect the rest of my performance,’’’ Harrington said, “or I could say, ‘That kind of stuff happens in soccer,’ and I brushed it off and said, ‘I’m going to have a good second half.”’
And that led to the second key play.
Three minutes into the second half, forward Josh Wolff sent a crossfield pass to an overlapping Harrington, who was at the top, left-side of the penalty area. Harrington put a move on Thorrington, settled the ball to his right foot and cranked a shot from about 20 yards that beat Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch to the right corner.
“It was a great feeling,” Harrington, the Wizards’ first-round pick from North Carolina in 2007, said of his second goal of the season. “I find myself in the right spot it’s not like I’ve got to go score a goal now since I gave up the handball. “I was thinking go out and be solid, have a good half, and it turned out, I had a good look at goal. I scored a couple of goals this week in practice that were pretty identical to that. I’m not a goal scorer necessarily, but if I shoot, I like to bend it back-post like that.”
Busch, the MLS’s top goalkeeper, was surprised that Harrington, a natural left-footed shot, was able to strike it so well with his right.
“Credit to that kid,” Busch said. “I think if you gave him 10 balls he’s left-footed, so I’m not sure if he’ll do that again on his right foot. I saw it perfectly, but it bent around you’re stretching as far as you can, but it goes just inside the post. It’s a great shot on his part.”
The Wizards really didn’t have another good scoring chance against Chicago, which has given up the fewest goals in MLS. Chicago’s best chance at breaking the tie was McBride’s point-blanks shot off a rebound that Wizards’ goalkeeper Kevin Hartman stopped midway through the second half.
“The only thing about a tie is you just inch along,” said Wizards captain Jimmy Conrad. “We needed the full three points but we’re not out of it by any stretch.”