Forget the excitement of last week’s victory against Manchester United. For all the buzz it generated, that game was an exhibition.
On Saturday, the Wizards beat Toronto FC 1-0 at CommunityAmerica Ballpark before an announced crowd 10,385 in a game that meant a whole lot more to the team’s goals for this season.
The victory gave their playoff chances a boost. A loss, even on the last day of July, would have put the Wizards, 5-8-4, behind the eight ball having given up crucial points at home.
Instead, they temporarily leaped into fourth place in the Eastern Conference with 19 points, passing Chicago which has 17 points and plays today. The top two teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs, followed by the next four teams with the most points.
Pending Saturday night’s late game, San Jose and Toronto, 6-6-5, were tied for the seventh and eighth playoff spots with 23 points.
The Wizards pushed their unbeaten streak to a modest three games (2-0-1) thanks to rookie Teal Bunbury, who had his second goal of the season in the 61st minute.
It came with a little help from Toronto.
Toronto’s Adrian Cann played a poor ball back toward goalkeeper Stefan Frei. Bunbury ran onto the ball, fought off a Toronto defender and headed the ball at the top of the penalty area.
Frei leaped and got a hand on the ball, tipping it off the crossbar. The ball deflected down and crossed the line. It was one of only three Wizards shots on goals.
Wizards goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen made two saves for his seventh shutout of the season.
The only downside for the Wizards on Saturday was when forward Ryan Smith pulled up with an injury in the 57th minute. He went down without any contact and suffered a right hamstring strain.
Bunbury’s goal helped make the most of what had been a listless game. The first half was particularly slow. Toronto had the best chance of the half in the 43rd minute when Mista ran onto a pass in the penalty area and his shot from 14 yards out was turned aside by Nielsen, who dove to his right to make the save.
In the 26th minute, Toronto broke in on the right side of the box, but the Wizards’ Stephane Auvray muscled Dan Gargan off the ball and neutralized the attack.
The Wizards’ Michael Harrington lofted an easy shot from just outside the box in the 35th minute that was easy grabbed by Frei.
The crowd got a momentary thrill in the 39th minute when Kei Kamara headed home a pass off a free kick, but he was way, way offside. Four minutes later, Harrington tried another long-range shot from outside the box, but it also sailed high.
Each team had one shot on goal at the half.