- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2003

If they win, they’re in.

The Washington Freedom can clinch a playoff spot for the second consecutive season today against the injury-depleted San Jose CyberRays at RFK Stadium.

Home-field advantage in the WUSA’s playoff semifinals is still in doubt over the final three games. But the Freedom would be able to sleep easier knowing they are in the postseason.

“That’s about as simple as you can make it,” star forward Mia Hamm said. “We get our three points, we’re into the playoffs, and it’s an entirely new season.”

The Freedom (8-6-4) are tied with the Boston Breakers for second place and the right to play host to a playoff game. The top two teams play host to playoff games.

Forward Abby Wambach is perhaps the biggest reason why the Freedom are on the verge of clinching a playoff spot. Wambach was the WUSA’s player of the month for July after scoring six goals in six games and finishing the month with 13 points. She is second in the league in goals, behind Boston’s Dagny Mellgren, with 11.

Wambach is on the bubble to make the U.S. Women’s World Cup roster. Coach April Heinrichs is holding out hope that Shannon MacMillan, who suffered an ACL tear in May, will be match fit for the Cup in late September and early October.

There’s not much more Wambach can do. She showed Heinrichs what she’s all about in a July 13 exhibition against Brazil in New Orleans, coming on in the 66th minute and sparking the United States to a 1-0 victory.

In that game, Wambach flicked a header into the box that resulted in Tiffeny Milbrett’s game-winning goal in the 90th minute.

“The way I’ve been playing in the past month and the last couple months, it’s not giving [Heinrichs] a very easy decision about keeping me off the team,” Wambach said. “I’m just trying to make it as hard as possible for her.”

Heinrichs is hoping that MacMillan, who already is running and hitting balls with authority, can recover miraculously from her devastating knee injury. However, if MacMillan plays in this World Cup, she may risk permanent or career-ending injury because she has not fully recovered from surgery.

The word is that Heinrichs plans to keep only four forwards on her 20-player roster. Hamm, Milbrett and Cindy Parlow are locks. If Heinrichs holds open that final forward spot until the last moment, she might opt for MacMillan. If Heinrichs decides to keep five forwards, Wambach should be in.

“If I’m on that roster, I’m not going to make [U.S. Soccer] sorry that they put me there,” Wambach said.

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