- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 18, 2001

The Women's United Soccer Association inaugural playoffs begin today minus a number of big-name stars.

America's most famous female player, Mia Hamm of the Washington Freedom, will have to watch the games from the stands or on TV, along with U.S. national team icons Julie Foudy (San Diego Spirit), Joy Fawcett (Spirit), Carla Overbeck (Carolina Courage), Kristine Lilly (Boston Breakers) and Shannon MacMillan (Spirit), whose teams also failed to make the playoffs.

"We were all prepared for this," Hamm said. "I have friends all over this league and the way I think about it is, we want each other to be successful."

In today's semifinal games, the top-seeded Atlanta Beat play host to the fourth-seeded Philadelphia Charge, and the third-seeded New York Power visit the second-seeded Bay Area CyberRays.

The most exciting player in the league Tiffeny Milbrett, who led in goals this season with 16, will spearhead the Power against cover girl Brandi Chastain and her crew with the CyberRays. The Power were 0-2-1 and scoreless against the CyberRays in the regular season.

Atlanta, the favorite, is led by Canadian star Charmaine Hooper, who has scored five goals in her last two games and 12 for the season. However, Atlanta will have to contain English striker Kelly Smith, who has come on strong recently, and talented Chinese midfielder Liu Ailing (10 goals).

Unlike in the regular season, overtime will be used in the playoffs. As many as two 7?-minute sudden-death periods will be used if the game is tied, with penalty kicks as the final tiebreaker.

The championship game will be at Foxboro (Mass.) Stadium on Aug. 25.

WUSA numbers The Washington Freedom drew the biggest crowds in the regular season with an average of 14,421. The WUSA surpassed its average goal of 7,500 per game, doing 8,104.

Blame it on Mia The Washington Post's tirade against Mia Hamm this week for refusing to sign autographs at Camden Yards recently was a bit harsh. I've covered Hamm for 11 years and seen her reach out to fans many times.

After a bitter 3-2 loss to San Diego at RFK Stadium in June, Hamm spent 15 minutes (yeah, I timed it) signing, long after all the other players had gone to the locker room.

For the last 10-plus years, Hamm and every other U.S. team member have spent 30 minutes communing with fans after games.

The demands put on Hamm were even bigger this year. She carried the heavy responsibility of selling the WUSA, and the new league was never shy about using her in its promotions.

So what does Mia Hamm do now after a disappointing season? "The first thing for the players is to step back, to step away from the game, reevaluate ourselves as individuals and see what we need to do better next year."

Americans in England The English Premier League kicks off this weekend with champion Manchester United playing host to newly promoted Fulham tomorrow. Fulham, which won the First Division title last season has two Americans on its 30-man squad: speedy left midfielder Eddie Lewis and goalie Marcus Hahnermann. Lewis a former San Jose Earthquakes player and Hahnermann a former Colorado Rapids star, are reserves.

American forward Joe-Max Moore has a chance of getting some playing time when Everton visits Charlton today. Moore scored the lone goal for the Toffees in the 1-0 win over Spanish club Espanyol on Monday night but also picked up an ankle injury and left the game at the break.

America's top two goalies, Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel, also will be involved in England's top league this season. Friedel will start today for newly promoted Blackburn on the road at Derby, while Keller will be on the bench as backup goalie when the Tottenham Hotspurs welcome Aston Villa.

Arsenal, Liverpool and Leeds United appear the only teams capable of stealing Manchester United's crown this season.

Where are the Brits? According to a recent survey by News of the World, the English Premier League is dominated by foreign stars.

At last count, 212 foreigners were signed to Premiership clubs, an amazing number considering there are only 220 starting jobs. The Premier League is now the most diverse league in the world, with players from 48 nations. London club Chelsea alone has 23 foreigners on its roster.

The 20 Premier clubs combined have spent more than $1.6 billion on foreign talent. Manchester United has spent the most, $129 million on 12 players, followed by Arsenal ($199 million on 16) and Chelsea ($113 million on 23).

Quote of the week Eric Wynalda, on why after years of struggling he is having a good season with the Chicago Fire: "I'm trying to repress the last two years from my memory. [Recently] I've been more of a dad than a soccer player."

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