The longer the game was scoreless, the pressure continued to mount on the Wizards.
They felt it in on the field. They felt it on the sidelines. And they felt it in the locker room at halftime of Saturday night’s game against the New England Revolution, a must-win to keep the Wizards’ playoff hopes alive.
Defender Jimmy Conrad finally broke the tension with a header off a corner kick in the 61st minute, giving the Wizards a 1-0 victory in front of 9,488 at CommunityAmerica Ballpark.
The win kept Kansas City, 9-10-9, squarely in the MLS playoff race with two games to go.
The Wizards are in a three-way tie with Real Salt Lake and New York for the last three playoff spots with 36 points, and they have the tie-breaker with both. Even if Colorado, with 34 points, wins today and picks up three points, the Wizards will still finish the weekend no worse than in the top eight that qualify for the playoffs.
“The first half, I thought we were a little nervous,” said Conrad. “We knew we needed to win, and we said at halftime, ‘A tie doesn’t do us any good.’ We needed to get the full three points.”
Conrad made sure of it when he struck for his team-leading sixth goal of the season. Jack Jewsbury’s corner kick allowed Conrad to knife between a cluster of Revolution defenders and head the ball toward the goal, off New England defender Jay Heaps and past goalkeeper Matt Reis.
“I never thought I’d score six goals or lead my team at this point in the season,” said Conrad, a five-time all-star whose previous high in goals was four, in 2003. “I didn’t score any last year so to score six this year, I’ve evened out the years.”
Conrad’s goal was just the second New England has allowed off a corner kick all season. But the Revolution should have seen it coming.
Conrad has headed in five off corners for goals this season, and his other goal also was a header off a free kick.
“We’ve been working on that stuff all week,” said Jewsbury, who left the game with a leg bruise in the 87th minute. “It was one of those things where I pick a spot, and hopefully the guys make the runs and get there. Jimmy’s done a great job all year getting his head on the end of things on set plays, and he did it once again.”
New England, 12-9-7, already has a playoff spot clinched, but this game was costly to the Revolution. New England’s leading scorer, forward Steve Ralston, suffered a broken right leg in the first half on an attempted tackle by the Wizards’ Hercules Gomez.
“When Ralston went out, they really miss that presence,” Conrad said. “He’s got so much experience. When he went out, you could see a collective, ‘Here we go’ from the whole team.’’
New England’s best chance at tying the game came on Khano Smith’s 19-yard drive in the 84th minute that was easily saved by Wizards goalkeeper Kevin Hartman. Hartman had two saves and recorded his 10th shutout of the season, the second most of his career and tied him for the league lead with Chicago’s Jon Busch.
“We had an extremely solid performance where all 11 guys on the field were fighting for each other,” said Wizards coach Curt Onalfo. “Three points that’s what we needed. We build on it as we go into our last two games of the season.”
Those last two are at home next Saturday night against San Jose and on Oct. 25 at New England.
“The last time we played New England at home, we were embarrassed 3-1,” Conrad said. “Even though that was the third game of the season, we still remembered that.”