- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 13, 2002

The star power of Mia Hamm and the ripple effect of the 1999 Women's World Championship carried the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) through its inaugural season in 2001. Now comes the challenge of year No.2.
In its attempt to avoid a sophomore slump, the WUSA has recruited more foreign talent and restructured its business side. The league's front office moved from New York to Atlanta to cut costs, and sports management veteran Lynn Morgan replaced Barbara Allen as president and CEO.
"It's no secret that there was a novelty aspect during the first season," said Morgan, who was eloquent in her first major news conference last week. Watch for Morgan to be more hands-on than her predecessor, a former Quaker Oats executive.
The going won't be easy as the eight-team league kicks off its second season today. Hamm, who boosted attendance figures wherever she played last season, is recovering from knee surgery and won't be back on the field for the Washington Freedom until May 18 at the earliest.
The league spent $40million-plus last year in start-up costs and averaged 8,104 spectators a game, higher than its original projection of 6,500.
Last year the Freedom drew 34,148 for the league's opening game against the Bay City CyberRays at RFK Stadium. Club officials say they are expecting 10,000 for today's game against the New York Power.
This year the WUSA hopes to increase the attendance figures, boost TV ratings and improve the quality of play on the field.
"If you look at start-up pro sports leagues during the last 10 years, you'll realize that this goal is an ambitious one," Morgan said.
Morgan says season ticket sales are better than they were at the end of the 2001 season, but she could not provide any figures.
Last year the WUSA averaged a 0.4 cumulative TV rating with Turner Sports, meaning 292,000 homes watched on average. The league was released from its multiyear deal with Turner and now will air a live game every Saturday at 4 p.m. on PAX-TV.
The product on the field is expected to be better this season. After a year of playing together, team chemistry has improved and the quality of the average American player is higher. New players also have arrived from Europe and China.
"We've brought in more attacking players," said WUSA commissioner Tony DiCicco.
Germany's lethal striker, Birgit Prinz, 24, joined the Carolina Courage, and French attacking midfielder Marinette Pichon, 26, is set to bolster the Philadelphia Charge. Eight star players have been signed from Norway and China. Add to that up-and-coming American stars such as Danielle Slaton (Carolina), Jena Kluegel (Boston) and Abby Wambach (Washington), and the league boasts plenty of new blood.
The Atlanta Beat, which nearly won it all last season with the attacking duo of Charmaine Hooper and Cindy Parlow, is considered by many to be the favorite to win the title followed by San Jose and Philadelphia.
In other offseason moves, The CyberRays changed their name to the San Jose CyberRays; the Carolina Courage moved into the WUSA's first soccer-specific stadium at State Capitol Soccer Park (capacity 7,000), and the Beat moved from Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium to 15,000-seat Herndon Stadium, which will be the site of the championship game Aug. 24.
Freedom notes The theme for today's game at RFK could be, "Target Practice for Tiffany." Last season New York's Tiffany Milbrett was named the league's MVP after collecting 16 goals and three assists. With Siri Mullinix (shoulder) and Erin Fahey (calf) both recovering from injuries, Milbrett will be shooting at the Freedom's third-string goalie today, Dawn Greathouse. Greathouse sat on the bench all last season.
The Freedom have no Brazilians on their roster with the departure of Pretinha and Roseli, but they do have twins. Striker Jacqui Little has joined defender Skylar Little on the Freedom from the CyberRays. The twins haven't played together since high school. As collegians, Jacqui played for Santa Clara, and Skylar went to UCLA.
"I'm happy that we'll be playing together again," said Skylar. "We worry a lot about each other being happy. Last year, I was happy and she wasn't."
Skylar started 19 games for the Freedom last season, while Jacqui started three for the CyberRays.
Corner kicks D.C. United star midfielder Marco Etcheverry received his green card this week and will no longer count as a foreign player. Major League Soccer allows only three foreign players per team, so United now has a vacant international slot.
The U.S. men's national team takes on Ireland in Dublin on Wednesday (ESPN2, 2:20 p.m.). This will be the final chance for U.S. players to make an impression on coach Bruce Arena, who says he will make the final decisions on his 23-man World Cup roster after the game. One player sure to be in Arena's plans is New York/New Jersey MetroStars forward Clint Mathis, who has recorded a point in each of his last seven starts for the U.S. team, with seven goals and two assists.

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