- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 28, 2003

Mia Hamm may sit out the Washington Freedom’s game today in Atlanta to rest her sore right knee.

Hamm’s injury is not considered serious, but with the Freedom (5-3-2) facing five games over the next three weeks, they would prefer a rested Hamm for the toughest stretch of their schedule. She is listed as questionable and remains a game-time decision tonight against the second-place Beat (5-2-4).

“This is one of the times where we have six days [to prepare] for this game, and the next game would make 13, so it might not be a bad idea to see if I can get this fully recovered as opposed to just getting by each and every game and have it potentially get worse,” Hamm said.

Hamm is enjoying the best of her three injury-riddled WUSA seasons. She is tied for second in the league in points with 20 and is third with seven goals.

“If she’s healthy, we’ll start her,” coach Jim Gabarra said. “She’s been a great asset for the team.”

Hamm missed the first 10 games last season recuperating from offseason knee surgery. Used primarily in a reserve role afterward, she managed to score eight goals and add six assists in 11 games despite starting only once.

“It’s a little muscle pull,” Hamm said. “I’m going to travel. We’ll test it on Saturday.”

This game marks the midway point of Washington’s schedule. Despite winning just one of their past five matches, the Freedom are in third place and just one win shy of regaining a share of first place with the Boston Breakers.

“I think our play has probably been a B,” said Gabarra, grading his team. “I think we’ve been fortunate to get some results, so maybe people thought we were a little better than we were. I’m happy with the way we’re playing. We haven’t been able to find a good rhythm, whether it’s the schedule, outside pressures, but hopefully now that it’s just lots of games after games, we can find some rhythm. The game is the best teacher.”

The Freedom play one-third of their 21-game schedule in July, a month that should determine their playoff chances.

“It’s going to be a tough month, but we’re professional athletes and we need to come to play,” forward Abby Wambach said. “An optimistic way of looking at it is that we have less practices.”

Historically, 10 wins usually clinches a playoff spot, although the New York Power and Philadelphia Charge got in with nine two years ago during the WUSA’s inaugural season. If 10 is indeed the magic number, the Freedom are halfway home with five wins and half the season remaining.

“If the first half of the season is any indication of the second half, every team is going to be in it until the last three or four games,” Gabarra said.

The Beat, who like to play a physical brand of soccer and clog the midfield, will have two of their more accomplished offensive weapons ready for the Freedom: Japanese midfielder Homare Sawa and Mexican forward Maribel Dominguez.

Because of a home-and-home series between Japan and Mexico for the final World Cup spot starting July5, there were some questions whether Sawa and Dominguez would be available against the Freedom. A Beat official said Sawa and Dominguez will be released to their national teams following today’s game.

Earlier in the season, the Freedom and Beat battled to a 1-1 draw in the second game of the first women’s soccer doubleheader at RFK Stadium. Atlanta forward Cindy Parlow, the reigning WUSA player of the week for her three-goal performance in the Beat’s 4-2 win over the Charge, missed the first meeting because she played the full 90 minutes for the U.S. team.

The key for the Freedom will be breaking down the Beat’s defense. Atlanta has allowed nine goals, the fewest in the league.

“Atlanta relies a lot on bumping people off the ball, fouling and getting into people’s heads, and those are the type of things we can’t allow them to run the game by,” Wambach said.

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