- The Washington Times - Friday, August 23, 2002

Washington Freedom central defender Jen Grubb inexplicably was left off the Women's United Soccer Association first team because the league placed only three defenders.

Grubb, who has had as solid a season as any defender in the league, had to settle for second-team all-league status. Most teams employ four defenders in a 4-4-2 scheme. But the WUSA's all-league team is configured as a 3-4-3 unit.

"We don't have big-name players playing in the back for us, but we know how we work as a unit and it's working," Grubb said.

Grubb, the Freedom captain, was snubbed in favor of Carolina rookie left back Danielle Slaton, who was named the WUSA's Defensive Player of the Year, and Philadelphia Charge defenders Erica Iverson and Jennifer Tietjen.

It was Iverson who was beaten to the end line by Freedom reserve forward Jacqui Little in the 80th minute of Washington's 1-0 playoff semifinal victory Saturday. Little then sent a cross into the box to set up Monica Gerardo's game-winning goal.

"When you have true team performances like we had this year and you look at Philly's defense, they don't have one great player they've got three or four who have done an exceptional job of working as a unit, so you're not going to get those individual awards," Freedom coach Jim Gabarra said. "I think it's more important to get the biggest award, and that is a championship."

Tomorrow against the Courage (13-5-4) in Founders Cup II at Morris Brown College's Herndon Stadium in Atlanta, the 24-year-old Grubb will have another chance to display her talents for the Freedom (12-5-5).

Grubb, who was the Freedom's first pick and the second overall of the 2000 supplemental draft, is a defender who works hard. She's not flashy, but consistent. She's also the WUSA's "Iron Woman."

Grubb has played every second of every game for the past two seasons. Only San Jose CyberRays defender Thori Bryan can make a similar claim. Grubb plays a demanding position where there is plenty of contact. It's a testament to her conditioning and hard work that she hasn't missed a game.

"I've had a tweak here and there, but nothing to keep me out," said Grubb, who played college soccer at Notre Dame. "I try not to think about it [the streak]. Obviously, I'm aware of it. If Jim would say that he thinks the team will win if I come out the last 10 or the last 20 minutes, I'll do it. Hopefully, that's not what he thinks."

Thanks to Grubb's leadership, Gabarra's defense has done a complete turnaround from last year's unit that gave up 35 goals tied for the second most in the league. This season the Freedom allowed 29 goals.

Last season Grubb played as a defensive midfielder. During the offseason, Gabarra moved Grubb back to a central defender her natural position and inserted Lindsay Stoecker as his defensive midfielder. With Grubb's ability to clear balls 40 yards downfield, her position change was overdue.

"One of the lessons learned from last year is that we need her in the back," Gabarra said. "It's the base for our consistency."

From her central defender position, the solidly built, 5-foot-7 Grubb has organized the Freedom's backline defense. That's not easy to do, because fellow central defender Carrie Moore is running all over the place man-marking the opposition's most dangerous goal scorer. In essence, the Freedom are playing a three-player back with Moore roaming. Grubb sees the field and coordinates how the Freedom are going to defend.

"Jen is really good at reading the ball and making that last decision," goalkeeper Siri Mullinix said. "Now that we've moved her to the back line, it allows her to do that. Her timing is good, she's aggressive, she's got a great foot, and we're comfortable. She's a great organizer, constantly keeping them on the same line."

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