- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2003

There’s some bad news for the rest of the Women’s United Soccer Association: The first-place Washington Freedom got stronger last week.

German national team defender Sandra Minnert joined the Freedom on Tuesday after leading FFC Frankfurt to the German League championship. Minnert leaves one championship team and potentially joins another.

Freedom coach Jim Gabarra said today’s game against the third-place Boston Breakers (4-3-2) at RFK Stadium will dictate how much Minnert plays, but the technically gifted defender is expected to see some minutes.

With the Freedom (5-1-1) off to the best start in their three-year history, Minnert understands it will be difficult to crack the starting 11. The Freedom’s four-player back line essentially has been together for three years. The only change has involved switching Lindsay Stoecker and captain Jen Grubb as the holding midfielder.

“It’s going to be hard because the team has done well and I’m stepping in now,” Minnert said through teammate and interpreter Steffi Jones. “I just hope I can help the team.”

Many within the club believe it is just a matter of time before she starts. Minnert, who has accumulated 96 caps with the German national team, can play equally well with both feet but is perhaps best as a central defender.

With Carrie Moore and Grubb solidly anchoring the Freedom’s central defense, it doesn’t appear Minnert, 30, will break in there. For now, though, she gives the Freedom quality depth.

“She has no fear, she’s very strong, she’s fast and she has everything that a defender needs,” Jones said. “When I came in last year and I knew I was going to start and someone had to move, you just feel strange. She’s a player you don’t put on the bench.”

Jones, the Freedom’s starting defensive midfielder, knows Minnert better than anyone else because she played with Minnert on the German national team and with FFC Frankfurt. The Freedom acquired Minnert as an international discovery player in the offseason. Another FFC Frankfurt player, forward Jennifer Meier, will arrive in a couple of weeks. The Freedom do not have a Chinese player on the roster this season after Pu Wei and Bai Jie played last season.

“It’s all about opportunity and circumstances when you have to go out and look for players,” Gabarra said of the team’s changing international face. “The Chinese players were going to be a difficult issue for this part of the cycle — the World Cup and the Olympics — back to back. We still see [the Chinese] as part of our team but not this year. We’ll look at and evaluate that after this season. Sandra will certainly be here and Steffi will be here, and Steffi doesn’t count as an international.”

Minnert said she has played some at left back during her German career but cautions that she doesn’t push forward up the flank like left outside back Emmy Barr currently does.

Training last week with her new team, Minnert noticed there is a big difference between the German game and the WUSA.

“It’s faster and more physical,” Minnert said. “It’s better than it is in Germany, it’s different, it’s new and I really like it.”

The Freedom hope they don’t have to use her in a worst-case scenario today. The Breakers, featuring the goal-scoring tandem of Maren Meinert and Dagny Mellgren, will test the Freedom’s defense. Meinert, who plays with Minnert on the German national team, and Norwegian Mellgren are tied for the league lead with six goals each. Meinert also is tied with Freedom forward Mia Hamm for the league lead with 16 points.

“Whenever you add someone, especially in the back, that hasn’t played with the team, I think it’s going to be a slower process than if we were struggling,” Gabarra said.

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