- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2001

Michelle French's hard work and play in the Women's United Soccer Association hasn't gone unnoticed.

Although French has just two assists in 900 minutes, women's national team coach April Heinrichs obviously knows French's Washington Freedom stats don't tell the whole story, because Heinrichs named her to the U.S. roster for the Independence Cup against Canada at the end of the month.

"Anytime you are put up against 120 other people in the league and to get chosen to play for your country is an honor," French said.

French, 24, is one of the Freedom's first three players, along with forward Mia Hamm and goalkeeper Siri Mullinix. French, Washington's left flank midfielder, has been perhaps the club's most consistent performer.

"She's created a lot of opportunities that we haven't put away," Hamm said.

The sociology major from the University of Portland is the best on the team at crossing into the box. However, French's deft service, for some reason, isn't showing up in the game stats. The Freedom's inability to score goals (12 in 10 games) is hurting French's numbers.

"She's a left back who is playing left midfield because she likes to get forward," Freedom coach Jim Gabarra said. "The reason [the flank play] hasn't gotten noticed as much is because a lot of the fields we've been playing on the road have been narrow, and that makes it really hard to play because you don't have much space."

Tonight's game against the San Diego Spirit (2-5-2) at RFK Stadium marks just the fourth home contest of the season for the Freedom (4-4-2) at the season's midway point. The Freedom are hoping the spacious confines of RFK can open up French and Bai Jie, the Freedom's skilled right-flank midfielder.

"Now we just have to make better crosses and finish as well," French said of the Freedom's flank play. "I probably could do a better job finding people's heads, finding their feet, and giving them an easier ball. It's a little bit of both."

French, 5-foot-5, has been capped 13 times by the national team. She replaced legend Michelle Akers on last year's Olympic team after Akers retired from international competition.

Many consider French part of the next generation to carry on the rich tradition of the U.S. national team. With Brandi Chastain and Kristine Lilly entrenched on the left side, French is content to bide her time and wait for Chastain and Lilly to move on.

"There is no substitute for hard work, and Frenchie has an unbelievable understanding of that," Hamm said. "She wouldn't ask you to do something that she wouldn't do herself. If players keep coming through with that mentality and that commitment, the national team is going to be very secure for a long time."

French, converted to midfielder from defender, was named to the roster for the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup residency camp in Florida following a fine senior season at Portland. French captained the 1997, 1998 and 1999 Nordic Cup teams, helping the U.S. to championships in 1997 and 1999.

French was a member of the Under-21 national team from 1994 to '99. She has enjoyed a taste of national team call-ups but has yet to make an impact. With the bulk of the 1999 U.S. World Cup championship team approaching 30 or older, French has a good opportunity to show Heinrichs what she can do.

"With the way the national team has been, you've got players who have been around for years and years and years, and there hasn't been a lot of turnover," Gabarra said. "I think there will be some turnover in the next few years, and she's in a position where she can step in and solidify a spot on the team."

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