- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 27, 2002

The Washington Freedom visit the Atlanta Beat today without Abby Wambach, who is playing for the U.S. team against Finland at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Calif.

Wambach earned two assists in the Freedom's impressive 2-1 comeback win over the Women's United Soccer Association champion San Jose CyberRays on Sunday at RFK Stadium. The 5-foot-10 center-forward caused all sorts of problems for the CyberRays' defense and appears to be the answer to the Freedom's attacking woes.

"We will definitely miss Abby because we play against a very physical team in Atlanta, and with her size she brings us a very physical presence," Freedom coach Jim Gabarra said. "She's not a player who is going to breeze past defenders, like Tiffeny Milbrett. We want to use her size and ability to hold the ball and set up plays."

Gabarra said Chinese midfielder Bai Jie is a possibility to replace Wambach in the middle of the forward line, as well as Stephanie Rigamat. The preferred replacement is Monica Gerardo, but her status is still day-to-day as she recovers from a strained hamstring. If Gerardo is fit she will start.

Wambach was added to the U.S. roster to replace injured Beat forward Cindy Parlow. Her only other appearance for the American team was during a 4-1 win over Germany on Sept. 9, 2001, when she played 14 minutes.

Today's game against Atlanta, the preseason WUSA favorite, is the first of a three-game road trip for the Freedom (1-1). Surprisingly, the Beat lost their first two games and are the only winless team in the WUSA. Atlanta was runner-up last year, losing to the CyberRays in the championship game on penalty kicks.

"We're seeing a team that for the first time since it's been playing is having its character tested," Atlanta coach Tom Stone said. The Beat lost their home opener to the Philadelphia Charge 2-0 and then fell at the Boston Breakers 3-1 last week.

"'Zero-and-three' has been the mantra around here all week," said a Freedom official.

Gabarra said third-string goalie Dawn Greathouse likely will start again, but Siri Mullinix who has been recovering from a shoulder injury may come in for the second half.

Meanwhile, Finnish midfielder Anne Makinen will miss the Freedom's game at San Diego next week because Finland plays host to Switzerland in a World Cup qualifying game May 5.

Twins galore Today's game could produce a first in American professional sports. Twins Nancy and Julie Augustyniak could take the field for Atlanta against Jacqui and Skylar Little, twins who play for the Freedom. According to the WUSA, there has never been such a matchup in the history of professional sports in North America. There have been several pairs of prominent twins who were teammates, but none faced each other.

There were four sets of twins in the league when the WUSA started last season.

Corner kicks Oliver Tse, who runs soccertv.com, reports that the WUSA 2002 season opener between San Jose and Boston on April 13 was the least watched nationally televised sports event during the week of April 8-14. According to Nielsen Media Research, the game, which aired on Pax TV, earned a meager 0.095 rating, which equals an estimated 81,000 households. The game drew fewer viewers than the Wal-Mart FLW Fishing Tour on Pax TV. According to Tse, the WUSA's inaugural game last year earned a 0.5 rating.

Former England national coaches Glen Hoddle and Bobby Robson are urging Newcastle United striker Alan Shearer to come out of international retirement. Shearer, who has been in excellent form for Newcastle this season and scored his 200th goal in the Premier League last week, says he has no intention of playing for England again and is looking for a nice long vacation this summer. Shearer raised his total to 202 on Tuesday when he slotted two goals past American goalie Brad Friedel as Newcastle tied Blackburn 2-2.

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