- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 22, 2001

When the Washington Freedom last faced the Bay Area CyberRays at RFK Stadium on July 12, they unveiled a 4-4-2 formation with a stronger emphasis on defense than their former 3-5-2.

The Freedom looked to shore up some holes in their defense and hoped to stop Bay Area's destructive duo of midfielder Sissi and defender Brandi Chastain, from handing Washington another loss and further jeopardizing its postseason hopes.

"Between [Sissi] and Brandi, that's pretty much where their entire attack comes from," said Washington coach Jim Gabarra, whose team is 6-7-2.

But the Freedom struggled to grasp the 4-4-2 alignment, allowing Chastain to assist on all of the CyberRays' goals in a 3-2 victory that was decided in stoppage time. Every Bay Area goal was scored on a major defensive mistake by Washington's confused backline.

"Two of those goals was a case of just some people stepping and some people being balanced [on the offsides trap]," Freedom defender Amanda Cromwell said. "The second goal [an open shot from 21 yards by Bay Area forward Katia] was just a case of not stepping hard to the ball."

In the 10 days since that loss, the Freedom have had plenty of time to study the system.

A long string of practice time with the 4-4-2 was interrupted by a 2-1 win over the New York Power in which a vastly improved Washington defense committed only one major mistake resulting resulted in a Power goal. The Freedom weathered a New York offensive onslaught in the final 10 minutes.

"We were solid," Cromwell said.

The last CyberRays game was the midterm exam, but today's rematch is the final.

A poised, prepared and playoff-hungry Freedom team is what the CyberRays (7-4-4) will face in San Jose, Calif. It is the teams' third and final regular-season match.

The test for fifth-place Washington will be just as difficult. The CyberRays are the WUSA's hottest team with a nine-game unbeaten streak after its 1-1 tie with the Atlanta Beat on Thursday.

The big worry, as always, is Chastain. She was subbed out before halftime Thursday after injuring her knee but is expected to play today.

The U.S. team star plays somewhat recklessly. She often sprints down the wing from her left defender position to give the offense a man advantage.

"She just goes with no abandon," Gabarra said.

It worked wonders last time against Washington. However, the Freedom think they've found a way to end Chastain's free reign on the flank.

Gabarra switched the flank positions of Washington midfielders Bai Jie and Michelle French. French will start on the right wing to match against the runs of Chastain, her teammate on the national squad.

"I think Frenchie's a little more disciplined as far as knowing Brandi and knowing how she gets forward," Gabarra said. "And Bai Jie is probably more effective going forward than Frenchie is, so it makes more sense if you're going to have to defend one side of the field, you put your defensive player over there, not your attacking player."

Notes For today's game, Gabarra's tentative lineup has Pretinha starting at forward with Mia Hamm, Siri Mullinix in goal and Carrie Moore in place of Emmy Barr on defense… . Barr took six stitches over her left eye after a collision with a Power player while going for a header last Sunday… . Hamm was named WUSA player of the week after scoring three goals in two games last week.

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