- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2001


For the Washington Freedom, there were no playoffs, no Mia Hamm and no escape from their misery.

Coming into yesterday's game against the Atlanta Beat, the Freedom had been mathematically eliminated from the Women's United Soccer Association's playoffs earlier in the week.

The Freedom also knew they would be without Hamm for their final game of the season at RFK Stadium because of yellow card accumulation. What the Freedom didn't know was that they were going to lose outright in the waning minutes of the game a game the Freedom dominated for 80 minutes.

As soon as it started to rain, Atlanta forward Charmaine Hooper came to life, scoring two goals in the final nine minutes in a downpour as the Atlanta Beat stunned the reeling Freedom 2-1 yesterday before 8,854.

"That's our season in a nutshell right there," Freedom coach Jim Gabarra said.

The long season ends for the Freedom (6-11-3) on Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis because of an 'N Sync concert scheduled at RFK. The Freedom began to unravel June 9, when they lost 2-1 in Atlanta. Since that game, the Freedom have lost nine of 12.

Hooper's first goal served as a warning to the Freedom that the game was not over. She tied the game in the 81st minute on a header that bounced all over the place before going into the net.

Beat substitute forward Sun Wen took a corner kick that was cleared out by Freedom central defender Lindsay Stoecker. The ball came back to Sun, who played it back into the 6-yard box. Hooper, who was three yards out, headed the ball off the underneath of the crossbar. The ball came off the bar, struck Freedom goalkeeper Erin Fahey in the back of the head and rolled in to tie the game 1-1.

Hooper's game-winner came four minutes later in torrential rain. It started when Sun played a short chip into the box to Hooper. Hooper collided with Freedom right back Skylar Little and composed herself with the ball. Then Hooper held off Stoecker and rolled a right-footed strike under Fahey from 10 yards out. The win clinched a playoff berth for the Beat.

"My mom always used to say when it rains, it is a blessing," said Hooper, who is tied for fourth in the league with nine goals. "Just as it started to rain, I thought. 'We are going to win this game.' I don't know why she thinks the rain is a blessing, but I kind of believe everything she says."

After playing 30 minutes of uncreative soccer, the Freedom scored the game's first goal off a header from Tracy Milburn.

Nice teamwork on the Freedom's left side contributed to the goal. It started when Freedom left midfielder Michelle French found herself under pressure in the Atlanta box with her back to goal. French played the ball back out to left back Emmy Barr, who sent in a perfect left-footed cross curling toward the goal from 30 yards out.

Milburn beat three Atlanta defenders to the cross and finished with a diving header from the top of the 6-yard box that whistled past goalie Briana Scurry into the net's left corner for her second goal of the season.

"It made it easier," Milburn said of Barr's cross. "All the defenders were going to the near post, and because of a runner that slipped through I was left unmarked."

Milburn's goal was the only one in the first half. The Beat (9-4-7) had three good scoring opportunities in the first half. In the fourth minute, Hooper sent a header that Fahey saved diving to her left.

Fahey, who started yesterday in place of Siri Mullinix, came up big again on Hooper in the 19th minute on another header from about 10 yards directly in front of goal. Fahey punched it over the crossbar to keep the the Beat off the scoreboard.

Only luck prevented Hooper, the Beat's leading goal scorer, from finding the Freedom's net in the 35th minute. At the top of the 18-yard box, Hooper unleashed a rocket that blasted off the left post. There would have been nothing Fahey could have done had Hooper's shot been a foot more to the right.

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