- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2001

CYBERRAYS 1, FREEDOM 0

SAN JOSE, Calif. From an entertainment standpoint, this was a box-office thriller.

There were marquee stars, namely Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain. There was a record-breaking crowd. And there was lots of action 28 shots in a down-to-the-wire, fingernail-biting offensive showcase.

In the end, the 16,174 fans at Spartan Stadium and a national television audience were entertained thoroughly. But as usual, members of the Washington Freedom were left an emotional wreck.

The Freedom fell 1-0 to the second-place Bay Area CyberRays, which stretched their unbeaten streak to a Women's United Soccer Association-best 10 matches.

With the loss and just six games remaining, Washington (6-8-2) remained in fifth place, one point back of idle Philadelphia. The top four teams advance to the league playoffs.

"We did just about everything you need to do but win," said Freedom coach Jim Gabarra, whose team lost a road game by one goal for the fifth time this year. "But we've had a lot of those this year. We're running out of time."

Washington had three golden opportunities in the final 10 minutes, including a shot off the left post from Jen Grubb in the 86th minute. Hamm, who brought most of the Bay Area's recording-breaking crowd out, also missed three wide open chances, including two in the second half against backup goalie Janine Szpara.

"That kind of goes with how it's been all season," Grubb said of her late shot. "All year it seems we've been just a little unlucky."

Washington's new defensive-minded 4-4-2 formation worked wonders for the first 43 minutes until Tisha Venturini and Julie Murray combined on a spectacular goal.

Megan Horvath sent a through ball to Venturini, who outworked a well-positioned Lindsay Stoecker. Venturini first earned the pass, then leapt over Stoecker before dribbling to the end line, just to the right of the goal. She drew out keeper Siri Mullinix, then slipped a pass right in front of the net, where defender Skylar Little was perfectly positioned. But a streaking Murray somehow got her foot on the pass first, nudging it off Little and into the net. Little wound up dazed and confused.

"I remember kicking it, then the next thing I know it's in the net," Little said. "I'm not even sure if I kicked it in."

Washington's midfield did a number on Chastain, who had three assists in a 3-2 win in the District on July 12. Chastain had only one shot yesterday.

Mullinix made some tremendous saves, particularly against Katia, who had eight of the Bay Area's 16 shots.

Hamm had four of Washington's 12 shots, including a one-on-one chance against Szpara in the 69th minute. Hamm streaked down the right side before blasting a shot to the near post from 15 yards out that Szpara dove for and knocked away. In the 81st minute, a left-footed shot by Hamm beat Szpara but trickled just right of the goal. She also blasted a wide-open shot from 18 yards out in the 42nd minute that went over the bar. This all came against a defense that has allowed just three goals in its last 10 matches.

"I'm the person that has to put away those chances," said Hamm, the WUSA player of the week after scoring three goals in two games. "I'm disappointed I didn't finish and we didn't finish, but I'm happy that we played some of our most creative offensive soccer this season."

Said Gabarra: "This was one of those games that could have been 3-2 or 4-2. We should have least got a tie out of it. We'll just have to regroup. At least there's still time."

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