- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2003

Mia Hamm’s best day in a Washington Freedom uniform was all the club needed to clinch a playoff spot.

Hamm became the fifth player in WUSA history to record a hat trick as the Freedom overwhelmed the San Jose CyberRays 5-0 before 9,269 at RFK Stadium in their final home game of the season.

The Freedom’s five-goal margin was the largest in club history and the second-largest ever in WUSA. With her three goals, Hamm leads the league in points with 33 and is third with 11 goals. Her 11 assists also lead the league.

“I’m just going to take this and be extremely thankful, but most importantly is [that] those three points get us into the playoffs,” Hamm said. “If it’s 1-0 or 5-0, that was our goal when we stepped on the field.”

Mission accomplished. The Freedom (9-6-4) are tied with the Boston Breakers (8-4-7) for second place and the right to play host to a playoff semifinal with two regular season games remaining. The Breakers have a slightly harder road ahead than the Freedom, playing the dangerous Carolina Courage at home and the CyberRays (7-8-3) on the road. The Freedom visit the last-place Philadelphia Charge (3-11-4) on Wednesday and the San Diego Spirit (6-6-7) on Saturday.

The lopsided win also sent a message around the league: It appears the Freedom are peaking at the right time.

In addition to Hamm’s brilliant performance, forward Abby Wambach also scored two goals in the rout. The most explosive goal-scoring tandem in the league made a mockery of the CyberRays’ back line defense.

“Whenever you score five goals and you don’t let any in, I think that’s more astonishing than anything — having so many goals scored in a game and actually not having any go in your own net,” said Wambach, whose 13 goals are tied for the league lead with Boston’s Dagny Mellgren. “I think it’s much harder to have a shutout than score five goals.”

The Freedom’s win cleared up a cloudy playoff picture. Courtesy of the Freedom’s win, the Atlanta Beat and Breakers also clinched playoff berths. The top four finishers qualify for the playoffs.

Despite opening the game a bit lethargically, the Freedom took a 1-0 lead into halftime on Hamm’s ninth goal of the season in the 42nd minute.

Wambach ran 50 yards with the ball into the CyberRays box and crossed to Hamm 8 yards from goal. Hamm’s right-footed blast went off the crossbar to Kelly Golebiowski, who was 12 yards out on the left. Golebiowski headed the ball back centrally to Hamm who headed it in from 6 yards out. CyberRays goalkeeper LaKeysia Beene was nowhere to be found on the play.

The CyberRays were missing their two best players, U.S. national defender Brandi Chastain (quadriceps strain) and leading scorer Pretinha (ACL). Also, Brazilians Katia and Sissi did not start because of fatigue and were second-half substitutes, and defender Amanda Cromwell was excused to attend Michelle Akers’ wedding.

Hamm struck twice in the first 10 minutes of the second half to give the Freedom a 3-0 lead. Hamm’s three goals came 15 minutes apart. Hamm’s second goal, in the 50th minute, was a clever shot into the turf from 8 yards out that skirted under Beene.

In the 55th minute, Hamm put the game away when she outran CyberRays defender Diane Alagich and chipped past Beene from 14 yards out.

Wambach made it 4-0 when she blasted a shot to the left corner in the 76th minute. Wambach finished off the scoring when Casey Zimny sent a cross that midfielder Sarah Kate Noftsinger chested down in the box. Wambach finished with authority from 14 yards to the upper left corner.

Notes — Starting defender Sandra Minnert will miss the Freedom’s final two regular-season games because of German national team duty. She will be back in time for the Freedom’s semifinal playoff game Aug.16 or 17. … The time for the Freedom’s season finale at San Diego on Saturday has been changed from 9 p.m. to 4 p.m. to accommodate PAX’s broadcast of the game.

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