- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

As usual, the greatest scorer in the history of women's soccer will not be in the starting lineup for the Washington Freedom on Saturday.

Mia Hamm will come off the bench in the Freedom's WUSA semifinal at the Philadelphia Charge in Villanova, Pa., just as she did during most of Washington's run to third place in the regular season. Hamm started just one game this season for the Freedom (11-5-5), who have gone 9-1-2 since she returned after offseason knee surgery.

"[Playing 90 minutes is] what I'm preparing myself for," Hamm said.

Hamm, who missed the Freedom's first nine games, was the catalyst for the team's playoff run; she scored eight goals and six assists in 11 games (she missed another because of a national team commitment).

In women's soccer, there are stars like Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, and Tiffeny Milbrett, and then there is Hamm, who has no equal and has been playing like it. Check out this statistic, for instance: Hamm has taken 26 shots and scored on 30 percent of them.

Freedom coach Jim Gabarra realizes he has a not-so-secret weapon when Hamm comes off the bench.

"With the turf and the smallness of the field, we'll just probably continue [bringing Hamm off the bench]," Gabarra said. "Maybe we can extend her 20 or 30 minutes, if we need that, and maybe don't want to change anything up for [the Charges] sake and keep it as normal as possible."

Keeping it normal should leave the Freedom as front-runners to win Founder's Cup II in Atlanta, but first Washington has to get past Philadelphia, a team it failed to beat in three games this season. The Charge (11-4-6) took the first game 3-1, then the Freedom were forced to settle for two 1-1 draws when late goals by the Charge tied the games.

"They've gotten two ties out of us that we think they don't necessarily deserve to get," Freedom captain Jen Grubb said. "We've played them well, and I don't think we'll allow that to happen. We'll take the win now opposed to two months ago."

Freedom goalkeeer Siri Mullinix sat out the team's season-ending 4-2 win at the New York Power and leads the league in save percentage (80.8). Mullinix, who has suffered from a broken hand and offseason shoulder surgery, could be a variable for the Freedom to advance in the playoffs.

"Obviously, this team has a lot of pride," Grubb said. "When we step on the field for the win knowing what has happened in the past [a 6-12-3 record in 2001] we're trying to get the win. This is the only team we have not beaten all year. On top of it being a playoff game and the road to the Founder's Cup, what motivation do you need?"

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