- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2001


It was the simplest of offensive strategies: Boot the ball behind the offsides trap, and then it's off to the races.

The Philadelphia Charge used this plan of attack relentlessly last night at RFK Stadium and all but shattered the Washington Freedom's playoff hopes by defeating them 2-0 on a rain-soaked field before 6,794.

Fourth-place Philadelphia (7-6-3) surged four points ahead of fifth-place Washington, which could be an insurmountable gap with just four games remaining for the Freedom. Only four teams make the playoffs.

"We've got to win games, and we need points," Washington coach Jim Gabarra said. "We needed that tonight, and it was a poor performance."

Philadelphia's strategy put the Freedom on their heels from the opening minutes. Although Washington regained enough poise to begin building some counterattacks midway through the first half, the pressure from the Charge never ceased.

"We thought that if we could find the space between their backline and their goalkeeper, we might be able to get in behind them a little bit," Charge coach Mark Krikorian said. "Fortunately for us, we have some players that have a bit of pace… . That was the intent, and I thought we created a few chances at the goal."

Philadelphia's first successful chance came in the 44th minute and resulted in a goal by midfielder Michelle Demko, a former Maryland player.

The scoring sequence began when Charge forward Mandy Clemens received a long ball in the attacking half off a clearance, then waited while her midfielders caught up.

The first to arrive was midfielder Kelly Smith, one of the league's most dangerous attackers. Washington's defenders kept a sharp eye on Smith as she ran through their offsides trap, stopped yards ahead of their line and, reminiscent of Romario in the 1994 World Cup, began to walk back up the field to signal she was out of the play.

Clemens, though, caught sight of Demko streaking on the blind side of Washington's defense down the left wing and sent a long cross to the corner of the box while Smith was still in an offsides position. The Freedom defenders stopped in their tracks, believing the referee would call the penalty, and left Washington goalkeeper Siri Mullinix all alone as she left her line and raced Demko to the ball.

Demko got there a step ahead and flicked the ball over Mullinix as she slid in, sending it bouncing inside the near post as Washington's defenders stood and watched from 25 yards away.

"I just kept trucking," Demko said. "I think what happened was everybody was caught off guard in that [Smith] was going to come out, and at the last second I just kind of broke through. [Mullinix] actually got a piece of it."

The Freedom had plenty of chances to equalize in the second half, twice using the Charge's own strategy against them to give forward Pretinha open chances at goal. None went in.

After many attempts, Philadelphia's insurance goal came in the 78th minute after another race for the ball. This time Charge reserve forward Deidre Enos hustled around Freedom defender Lindsey Stoecker to win a ball headed forward.

With 40 yards of open field between her and the Washington goal, Enos raced forward, then pinpointed the ball inside the right post and past Mullinix.

"We were tentative and disorganized in the back," Gabarra said. We could not do the simple things."

Note Freedom defender Emmy Barr, who was listed among the starters, was replaced before the opening whistle because of a strained calf muscle. Gabarra moved midfielder Michelle French back into her U.S. national team position at defender and brought Justi Baumgardt in at left wing.

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