- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 18, 2002

VILLANOVA, Pa. Mia Hamm didn't have to come off the bench and save the Washington Freedom in the club's first playoff game. Hamm's fellow Freedom reserves handled it just nicely.
Reserve midfielder Monica Gerardo scored the game's only goal in the 80th minute off an assist from reserve forward Jacqui Little as the Freedom defeated the Philadelphia Charge 1-0 yesterday in a hard-fought Women's United Soccer Association semifinal before 6,547 at Villanova Stadium.
The Freedom will play the Carolina Courage on Saturday at Atlanta in Founders Cup II for the league's second championship. The Freedom went 1-1-1 this season against the Courage, including a convincing 5-2 victory at Carolina on July 31.
With the heat and humidity index hovering in the 90s, Freedom coach Jim Gabarra pushed all the right buttons with his personnel moves in this one. Those who wanted to string up Gabarra for last season's 6-12-3 record now can toast a leading candidate for WUSA Coach of the Year honors.
Hamm, who has scored three game-winning goals this season after coming off he bench, let some of her inspirational magic rub off on her teammates.
"With Mia coming off the bench and providing a huge spark for us since she came back from [offseason knee surgery], it makes her feel a part of the team, and whoever she comes in for, they don't feel like they didn't do anything," Little said. "The whole team knows that anyone who comes onto the field is going to help."
Hamm was Gabarra's first substitute when he inserted her into his midfield for Anne Makinen to open the second half. In the 59th minute, Gabarra brought in Gerardo for defensive midfielder Ann Cook, who missed the past two weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a torn left meniscus. Seven minutes later, Little came on for forward Bai Jie. Those were the moves that worked.
"I think in the heat, it was very important," Gabarra said of his team's depth.
Charge coach Mark Krikorian was slow with his substitutions, leaving his tired team exposed to the Freedom's fresh legs. Krikorian's first personnel move came in the 66th minute, when the Freedom already had three reserves on the field.
The Freedom (12-5-5) are the hottest WUSA team heading into Saturday's championship after a 10-1-2 run. The last time the Freedom lost was June 22, when the Courage won 3-1 at RFK Stadium. Washington is unbeaten (8-0-2) in their past 10 games, the longest active streak in the league.
Gerardo's goal came at an opportune time. Pu Wei, the Freedom's 21-year-old Chinese midfielder, started Gerardo's goal. On the right flank and a yard outside the 18-yard box, Pu played a high ball back into the box with her left foot. Little trapped Pu's offering 10 yards from the goal, fought off two defenders, spun and raced to the endline, where central defender Erica Iverson was late trying to block Little's cross. Little rolled the ball back to the top of the 6-yard box, and Gerardo finished with authority using her left foot from eight yards out.
"I didn't see the goalkeeper, but considering that the ball was on the right side, the goalie was probably over there and didn't have enough time to shift over," Gerardo said of her fourth and biggest goal of the year. "It's kind of one of those things that you practice all the time cut the ball back from the endline and slot it to the opposite side."
This was the Freedom's first win in four tries against the Charge. Until yesterday, the Charge (11-5-6) had lost only one home game this season and were the league's best defensive team, allowing just 22 goals. A late defensive lapse cost the Charge a chance to reach the championship game.
"[Little] was able to control it and got off a perfect cross," Iverson said.
Said Little of her game-winning assist: "Actually, I just saw a white vision up there in the top of the box, and I just heard [Gerardo] screaming. I knew if I could play it to the top of the box that someone, whether it was Monica or Steffi [Jones] or someone, would put it in the net. I just tried to cross it nice and easy for someone to finish."
Freedom central defender Carrie Moore did a yeoman job defensively on the Charge's high-powered goal scorer, Marinette Pichon. Pichon, who finished second in the league this season with 14 goals, was neutralized.

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