- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Somebody had to cover Mia Hamm's back, and Abby Wambach did. The Washington Freedom forward yesterday was named rookie of the year in the Women's United Soccer Association.
Wambach, out of Florida, was the runaway winner in the voting by coaches, players and media members after contributing 10 goals and nine assists. In the regular season, Wambach finished tied for fourth among WUSA scorers and helped the Freedom to their first playoff berth. The 22-year-old, who was the second pick overall in the 2002 WUSA Draft, was tied for seventh in goals and fifth in assists this season.
"I'm not really concerned about awards right now," Wambach said. "I really think that it's funny that [Friday nights awards] banquet is prior to [Saturdays championship game]. The awards should be after the game. I think all the rookies have done a great job to perform and show themselves and make an impact on their team."
Wambach, a native of Rochester, N.Y., was instrumental in keeping the Freedom (12-5-5) in games when star Hamm was recovering from knee surgery early in the season.
The 5-foot-10 Wambach is unquestionably a physical presence. Her height allows her to hold off defenders when she has the ball in the box. On set pieces, Wambach is the target player the Freedom missed desperately last season. As the Freedom's leading scorer, Wambach demonstrated a toughness that was infectious.
Perhaps her best attribute was her ability to get back on defense. Wambach always retreated to the top of the 18-yard box to help her backline defense clear balls. Just having another body back was key to the team allowing just 29 goals. Last season the Freedom gave up 35 partly because their forwards were not tracking back.
Some think Wambach played her best soccer at the end of the season, when she started to creatively take on players and generate scoring opportunities.
But she produced as soon as she put on a Freedom uniform, getting three goals and three assists in the first six games.

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