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Freedom reborn with new league

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The Washington Freedom, a charter member of Women's Professional Soccer (WPS), were introduced to the media Tuesday at a news conference at RFK Stadium.

With team owner Maureen Hendricks on hand, the club welcomed its star defender, Cat Whitehill. The former North Carolina player had hopes of earning a living playing pro soccer when the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) folded in 2003.

"I was a senior," Whitehill said. "I was right there. I was on the cusp, and I was devastated."

Whitehill, 26, who has played 129 games for the U.S. national team, was allocated to the Freedom with star forward Abby Wambach and rookie defender Ali Krieger. Wambach (broken leg), who won a WUSA title with the Freedom in 2003, and Whitehill (torn ACL) suffered major injuries before the Beijing Olympics.

"They are both ahead of their rehab schedule," Freedom coach Jim Gabarra said.

The Freedom are the only team in the seven-club WPS with original owners from the WUSA.

"Our loyal fans have stayed with us," said Hendricks, who owns the Freedom along with her husband, John, founder of the Silver Spring-based Discovery Channel. The Hendrickses kept the Freedom afloat as a semipro team with a thriving youth organization for the last five years.

"We have many things that are the same [from the WUSA] - the same owner, same coach and same key player [Wambach]," club president Joseph Quinn said.

The Freedom will play their home games at the Maryland SoccerPlex near Germantown. The venue will expand to increase the capacity from 3,200 to 6,000. Some home games will be played at RFK Stadium as part of doubleheaders with D.C. United.

"We will share some overhead costs," United president Kevin Payne said.

The Freedom also revealed their logo, a soccer ball shaped like the U.S. Capitol dome.

The team potentially will expand its roster Wednesday in the international draft. Each team will claim the rights to four overseas stars with hopes of eventually signing them. On Oct. 6, the WPS general draft will take place, which will include players from the U.S. team's player pool, plus college graduates. In January there will be a player combine and a final draft to fill out the rosters, which will be set at 22 or 24 players.

Washington Mystics president Sheila Johnson also attended the news conference.

"We are going to work together," Johnson said. "We have to have collaboration."

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