- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2001

The Washington Freedom have been a fixture on the bad side of the WUSA's playoff divide since relinquishing the fourth and final playoff spot June 20.

With the end of the regular season approaching as fast as a Tiffeny Milbrett shot, Washington's last chance to reclaim that priceless postseason position could come tonight as the Freedom (6-8-2) face the fourth-place Philadelphia Charge (6-6-3) at RFK Stadium.

"The fact is that we have to win," Freedom forward Mia Hamm said. "Not that we have to tie or we have to do this; we have to win."

The Charge (21 points) are one point ahead of the Freedom in the standings, but that small gap could turn into a canyon in more ways than one if Washington fails to win. Philadelphia would continue to hold its one-point advantage with a tie or move four points ahead of Washington with a victory.

With only four games remaining after tonight, the Freedom would have a tough time overtaking the Charge, especially considering that Philadelphia has an additional game left.

Lose or tie today, and the Freedom's destiny barring an epic breakdown by the league's top teams down the stretch would be out of their hands following a stretch of negative midseason results.

"We've been rattled for the past couple of months," coach Jim Gabarra said.

One of those shakeups came from the Charge themselves, another cause of concern for the Freedom.

In the first game of a home-and-home series in late May, Philadelphia defeated Washington 2-0 at RFK. The Freedom evened the three-game season series the first tiebreaker in the event of a postseason lockup between multiple teams at Villanova Stadium with a 2-1 win.

"I know Philly's going to come out and play extremely hard," Hamm said.

In the event of a tie between the two teams after 90 minutes today, and again at the end of the regular season, the next tiebreaker would be goal differential.

Philadelphia has a five-goal advantage over Washington heading into tonight. And with the Freedom making the recent switch to a more defensive 4-4-2 formation, they do not appear to be bolstering themselves in this category.

Asked how he is addressing his team's goal-scoring differential in the current formation, Gabarra said, "We need more players forward when we do create scoring chances. It seems like we're creating chances where it's one versus two or three players in the box, and we need to get extra players up there."

More than in any of Washington's previous games, today's match will be decided in midfield as the Freedom's middle four follow their coach's orders to sprint into the attack but still get back in time to fill holes in the defense.

If the midfielders are up to the exhausting task, and if the home team gets some uncharacteristic lucky breaks tonight, Washington may cross that playoff divide for the first time in a long time.

"It's something that we all want," Hamm said. "Everyone wants to be in the playoffs, and it's still within our reach. It's up to us that's all we can ask is that it's in our hands and we'll see how we respond."

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