- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 24, 2002

ATLANTA This is what you call a double 180.
Last year the Carolina Courage and Washington Freedom finished tied for last in the eight-team Women's United Soccer Association. This season the teams find themselves playing in the league's second championship.
Today's Founders Cup II at Morris Brown College's Herndon Stadium showcases two rags-to-riches stories. These teams are in the championship game because both received good players in the offseason that allowed for their respective turnarounds.
"Certainly, [new players] are a huge component of that," Freedom coach Jim Gabarra said. "We were given the second choice in all the drafts and picking international players. That vaulted us personnel-wise up to the top. You look at teams in the middle, and they really couldn't improve too much."
The Courage received the top pick in all the drafts.
"I used to tell people that we tied with Mia's [Hamm] team last year, and they would say, 'Congratulations,'" Carolina coach Marcia McDermott said. "I think both teams made a lot of personnel changes and brought in a talented, cohesive team. I think the big adjustment was that both teams have clear talent and cohesion in the way they are put together."
These teams share many similarities. Both scored 40 goals this season tops in the league. Both reeled in big Germans in the offseason: The Courage added goal-scoring dynamo Birgit Prinz, who finished third in the league with 12 goals. The Freedom acquired Prinz's FFC Frankfurt teammate, midfielder Steffi Jones.
Both teams drafted rookies who made an immediate impact. The Courage drafted left back Danielle Slaton, who was named WUSA Defensive Player of the Year, with the top overall pick. The Freedom chose forward Abby Wambach, who was named WUSA Rookie of the Year, with the draft's second overall pick.
"I think there are a lot of similarities young defense, we have personalities up top, they have personalities up top, they have a great playmaker and we have several players that can playmaker for us," Hamm said. "In the defensive midfield, Steffi has been doing great, and Tiffany Roberts has been doing tremendous for them."
What the Courage (13-5-4) don't have is a player on a roll, but the Freedom do: Playing only the second half, Hamm scored four goals and added four assists in the last three regular-season games for Washington (12-5-5). The world's top all-time goal scorer presents a serious defensive problem for the Courage.
"It's always easier when you come into games, because the defenders are more tired and she is fresh," Prinz said. "I think she is doing a great job, but our team is good enough. We have very good defenders, and I'm not frightened of her."
Prinz should be more concerned with the tight man-marking of tenacious 5-foot-4 Freedom central defender Carrie Moore. Although she gives up five inches in height to Prinz, it would seem the Courage has a slight edge with this matchup.
However, Moore has been instrumental in man-marking opponents' top goal scorers. Last week she shut down Philadelphia Charge forward Marinette Pichon, the WUSA's Most Valuable Player. With her size, Prinz poses a different challenge.
"I'm going to try to limit her touches and mark her close enough she hopefully won't get the ball," Moore said. "She has speed that is deceiving because she's so big. The time where size really is the difference may be balls into the box."
This game probably will be won in the midfield. The Freedom, unbeaten in their last 10 games (8-0-2), are calling on Jones to win the midfield from Courage playmaker Hege Riise, who tied for second in the WUSA with 12 assists. Everything the Courage does goes through Riise, who serves balls into the box to Prinz and 5-10 forward Danielle Fotopoulos.
The Freedom's defense has improved drastically since Jones arrived June8. The Freedom have outscored their opponents 32-17 with Jones on the field and have been outscored 12-8 when she isn't playing.
Yet Jones doesn't think the outcome is riding on whether she takes Riise out of the game.
"Everybody tries their best to stop the other team," Jones said. "We should have the confidence in what we have achieved the last weeks or months and not look at their team. We should just play our game. We are strong enough. They could have a very bad day, and we're so strong that we don't have to watch Hege Riise."

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