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Wizards keep playoff hopes alive with 4-3 win over Houston Dynamo

The crowd of 9,679 exploded as Josh Wolff’s teammates engulfed him and dragged him to the CommunityAmerica Ballpark turf in jubilation. Confetti flew in the air as music that could barely be heard blared in the background.

And through it all, Houston’s players stared at each other in bewilderment with looks that said:

Wait a minute. We just blew a two-goal lead in the second half to the Wizards, a team that hadn’t overcome a deficit that large to win in over three years? And Josh Wolff, a former team MVP-turned-afterthought, just scored the game-winning goal in stoppage time? Really?

Really.

And just what was Wolff, the hero of the Wizards’ incredible come-from-behind 4-3 victory over the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday, thinking to himself in the midst of all this madness?

“It’s party time,” Wolff said with a laugh.

And you know what? They deserved to party. All of them. Especially considering how far they’ve come this season, how low they’ve been. In just two months, the Wizards have literally gone from paupers — they were 3-8-3 in mid-July — to princes. With their victory over the Dynamo, the Wizards improved to 9-9-6 and are now just three points out of the final playoff spot with seven to play.

Yes, it’s been a roller-coaster season for far the Wizards, and nobody has felt the highs and lows more than super-intense team captain Davy Arnaud, which would explain why he was the main one mobbing Wolff after his clutch goal.

“You can’t describe that feeling,” Arnaud said of the ensuing celebration. “That’s the reason why you play this game, that’s the reason why you work so hard for those few moments that you get, just like that.”

But for a while, it looked like the Wizards were headed to a hugely depressing, disappointing loss. Houston, 6-14-5, sits in last place in the Western Conference and has won just once in its last 15 games, but it still managed to build a 3-1 halftime lead.

“We allowed the pace of the game to be very slow and monotonous,” Wizards coach Peter Vermes said, referring to his team’s first-half performance.

The fact the Wizards were playing their second game in four days didn’t help. But Houston goalkeeper Pat Onstad set the stage for comeback in the 60th minute, when he slipped while attempting a goal kick and kicked it right to forward Teal Bunbury (who came on as a sub at halftime), who carried the ball ahead and put it past a flustered Onstad to make the score 3-2.

The Wizards tied it at 3-3 with an Own Goal in the 72nd minute, which occurred when defender Michael Harrington sent a cross to midfielder Ryan Smith, who unleashed a shot that deflected off a Houston defender and skipped past Onstad.

That set the stage for the game-winning goal, which came in the 96th minute as Harrington sent a cross toward Wolff, who was there to head it home amongst a throng of defenders.

Delirium followed, and Wolff — the Wizards’ 2009 MVP who was lauded by his teammates after the game for the way he’s handled coming off the bench this season — couldn’t have been happier.

“It’s been disappointing on a personal level for sure,” Wolff said, referring to his two-goal season. “But this helps out — it makes the next couple of days good, anyway.”

That’s right. No time to dwell on this win. Because on Saturday, the Wizards host F.C. Dallas — a team that enters with a gaudy 10-2-13 record and hasn’t lost in its last 16 games.

But the Wizards aren’t worried. Wins like this one only reinforce a growing belief that they definitely have a playoff-caliber team ... and maybe, just maybe, more than that.

“Tonight, it’s a big moment for us,” Arnaud said. “When you get results like this, it just feels like something is meant to be for you.”

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