- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 10, 2002

The playoff-bound Washington Freedom really have nothing to play for going into today's regular-season finale at the last-place New York Power.

With Wednesday's WUSA results especially the Carolina Courage's 2-1 win at the Power the Freedom (10-5-5) are locked into third place and have no chance of playing host to one of the two WUSA playoff semifinals on Aug.17.

Regardless of the outcome of today's game against the woeful Power (3-16-1), the Freedom won't know whom they will face in the playoffs until tomorrow night, after the Courage's game at San Diego.

The Freedom will either play at the Philadelphia Charge or at the Courage next Saturday.

Freedom coach Jim Gabarra, whose team hasn't lost since June22, is not going to change a thing even though today's game is meaningless. Gabarra said star forward Mia Hamm will come off the bench in the second half as a reserve, which has been her role since she returned to the Freedom's lineup on June13 after offseason knee surgery.

"I think the last 45 or last 30 minutes is probably what is best for her right now," Gabarra said of Hamm, who was named WUSA player of the week after collecting three goals and three assists in two Freedom victories last week. "You're talking about a rhythm and a confidence and we certainly have things going well for us right now. My goal right now is not to screw it up."

The Freedom are the hottest team in the WUSA, going 8-1-2 in their last 11 games. The Freedom's eight-game unbeaten streak is the longest active streak in the league and the second-longest run in the WUSA this season the Charge went 10 games earlier in the year without a loss.

By playing his regulars today, Gabarra hopes to keep his team's run of good fortune intact with just a week before the playoffs. In order to stay sharp, Gabarra plans to start goalkeeper Siri Mullinix, who sat out last Sunday's dramatic 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Beat.

"If you rest players completely, then you're talking about two weeks when they haven't played a game and I just don't like the sound of that," Gabarra said. "[Mullinix] is our starter so we'll see how the game goes and we'll give her at least 45 minutes or maybe even the whole game."

As for the playoffs and given a choice of where he would prefer to play, Gabarra said he would much rather play on the grass at Carolina rather than on the synthetic turf at Villanova Stadium. Plus, the Courage's State Capital Soccer Park is wider (120 yards by 75 yards) as opposed to Villanova Stadium's 120 yards by 65 yards.

"We obviously had a great performance there last time [5-2 victory on July[ThSp]31]," Gabarra said. "We'll let [the Charge and Courage] haggle over that. We're kind of pigeon-holed into third. If you can't get home field advantage, it really doesn't matter who you play. It's going to be a road game, it's going to be difficult. Both of those teams we feel confident that we can get a result from them."

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