scoring a PK is not such a sure thing. Witness last Saturday night when Wolff took a penalty that could have tied the match against the San Jose Earthquakes at 3-3 in Spartan Stadium.
"I hit it well, but it was an ideal height for a goalie and Pat [Onstad] made good contact with his hand and was a little fortunate because it went off the crossbar and came out," Wolff said of his PK attempt. "I didn't put it in the corner enough and Pat got enough of it to save it. It was a difficult one to swallow because it came at a time in the game where it could have changed the complexity of the game and possibly the end result. I was disappointed."
The past MLS weekend was filled was penalty kicks. A total of five spot kicks were taken with three being successful. On some, like FC Dallas's Carlos Ruiz's roller into the right corner, the shooter placed the ball perfectly, not giving the 'keeper a chance. On others, like Shalrie Joseph's line drive for the New England Revolution, the 'keeper was caught going the other way. Each kicker and 'keeper has his own way of approaching them.
"Everyone is different I'm sure, but for me, I try to have my mind made up where I want to go and what type I want to hit before I hit it. [The MetroStars'] Amado [Guevara] has gone to his left, I think, eight or nine times in a row, and this is the first time he missed," said Wolff, referring to Guevara's shot against the Chicago Fire last Friday.
"I've gone different ways in the past year or two. I went to the right this time mainly because in preseason I went to the right versus Chicago and hit a pretty solid PK. My mentality is to try and have a good idea of what I want to do beforehand and stick to it."
Wolff was successful two times in three tries during the 2004 regular season, a season where 39 of 49 attempts hit home in the league. That's 10 misses, or more than 20 percent of the attempts.
To Wizards' goalkeeper Bo Oshoniyi, the pressure is all on the shooter. "When it starts to become crunch time and you need one to win, or in a penalty kick shootout, the pressure becomes enormous," he said. "The goal becomes smaller and the goalkeeper somehow becomes bigger."
Despite the significant weight of taking PKs, in many cases, one player on a team is given the substantial responsibility throughout a season.
"Playing in Chicago, it was usually Ante [Razov]. if it wasn't Ante, it was Hristo [Stoitchkov]. If somebody misses and they don't want to take it, then, at some point, there can be a verbal or nonverbal as far as who wants to step up," said Wolff. "I have no problem stepping up to take them."
To Wizards coach Bob Gansler, a confident shooter is paramount, especially when teams, and 'keepers, scout out team's shooters. The penalty kick attempt then becomes a type of cat-and-mouse confrontation. Even legendary players have shied away from the task.
"The psychological edge is with the 'keeper. The 'keeper doesn't have to save it. It's almost like the guy taking it has to score, otherwise it's like, 'scoff, scoff, guffaw, guffaw, I could have done better.' That's what you hear in the crowd," said Gansler. "It takes someone who is psychologically well-equipped to go up there and have confidence.
"Franz Beckenbauer would not take the penalties at Bayern Munich. People said, 'Why don't you take them? You're the best player in the world.' He said, 'I've got nothing to gain, nothing to prove by taking them. Anytime I miss it, I'm going to get scathed.'
"So I applaud the guys on this team who take them. They had a guy named Gerd Muller who said, 'Yep, give me them.' Gerd was a very dumb man, but he was a very confident goal scorer," Gansler said.
Wolff and the Wizards did not let the failed penalty kick attempt stall their progress Saturday against San Jose as they gained several chances afterwards. But whether a penalty is successful or not, it can change the face of a match and the focus of a player.
"There's a psychological advantage. It all depends; it's just like any other event. It's what you make of it. If you're psychologically strong, you'll make it serve you whether it's a plus or minus," said Gansler. "It affects you how you allow it to affect you. The psychologically strong survive over the course of the season."
Wolff agrees as he anticipates further chances.
"It's disappointing when you miss, but if another one comes my way, I will certainly step up and take it unless otherwise told not to," he said. "You miss a couple here, you make a couple. I'm not going to dwell on it too much; that's life -- move forward with it.
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story is not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.