- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 12, 2001


ANNAPOLIS A terribly disappointing season mercifully came to an end yesterday for the Washington Freedom.
On paper, the Freedom were the team to beat this season. As it turned out, the Freedom were the team everybody beat this season. If the Carolina Courage defeat the San Diego Spirit today, the Freedom will finish last in the eight-team Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) with a 6-12-3 record.
Yesterday's regular-season finale against the New York Power epitomized the Freedom's collapse. Power defender Gro Espeseth and forward Tiffeny Milbrett each scored a goal as the Power shut out the Freedom 2-0 before 8,033 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Despite having Mia Hamm, the world's most recognizable female soccer player, the Freedom failed to live up to expectations. From June 9, Washington lost 10 of 13 games.
"If you talk to any team out there, they never knew what Freedom team would come to play the team that would take over a game and throw some fear into some teams, or the team that lets in goals in the last five minutes," said Hamm, who finished her first professional season with six goals and four assists. "Obviously, we have a lot of work to do in the offseason."
Yesterday's game was the sixth the Freedom lost this season by failing to score a goal. Goal scoring was a problem, defending was a problem and attacking from midfield was a problem for the rock-bottom Freedom.
Despite the prospects of finishing last in a first-year league, Freedom coach Jim Gabarra doesn't believe a major roster overhaul is needed.
"We got to evaluate players, we have to evaluate ourselves, we have to evaluate the front office, and I think we're awfully close," Gabarra said. "I think I would be foolish if I said we have to get rid of half the team. I don't think that's the case. We knew coming in that we were going to be young and inexperienced in the back, and we got punished for that."
New York (9-7-5) took full advantage of the Freedom's inexperience. The Power, who qualified for a playoff spot, did nothing in the first half until the 43rd minute, when Espeseth scored her first goal of the season off a Power corner kick.
Defender Nel Fettig played a short corner kick to midfielder Sara Whalen, who whipped a cross through the penalty area. Midfielder Emily Janss (Maryland) first-touched Whalen's cross out to Espeseth. From 17 yards, Espeseth sent a right-footed blast to the net's right corner that skimmed across the grass and past goalkeeper Siri Mullinix to give the Power a 1-0 lead.
The Freedom felt the goal should have been disallowed because Milbrett was in an offside position and screened Mullinix's view by disrupting the play.
"Yes, I was in an offside position, but I don't feel that I was involved in the play at all," Milbrett said. "I feel the ref made a good no-call, because it's not like it deflected off me or something, so I wasn't a part of the play, and I feel it's a moot point."
The Power put the Freedom away in the 78th minute with Milbrett's league-leading 16th goal. Power forward Tammy Pearman (George Mason) stole a Freedom pass just inside the Power's half of the field and ran 15 yards to the bottom of the midfield circle before playing a perfect ball through two Freedom defenders to Milbrett on the right.
Milbrett, who is a leading candidate for league MVP, took Pearman's well-played ball and raced inside the box. From 13 yards on the right wing, Milbrett finished with authority, beating Mullinix to the left post for a 2-0 lead.
The Freedom encountered a myriad of problems this season, but one of the biggest involved their hyped Brazilian strike force of Roseli and Pretinha, who turned out to be busts. Before the season, the Brazilians were touted to be prolific goal scorers. By season's end, both were planted firmly on the Freedom's bench.
The Freedom drafted both Roseli and Pretinha with the seventh pick next to last in the WUSA's foreign player allocation draft. Roseli contributed nothing to the Freedom with no goals and no assists in 11 games. Pretinha, who scored five goals, didn't connect in the final 13 games.
"I wouldn't say they hurt us they were great to have on the team," Gabarra said in what sounded like a farewell to the Brazilians. "I'm very appreciative of the way they dealt with the whole situation because, it was difficult for them. Picking seventh, we didn't have a choice of who we got."

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