- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 4, 2002

Give Abby Wambach the WUSA Rookie of the Year Award.

Wambach, the Washington Freedoms prized striker, is simply tearing up the Womens United Soccer Association. Shes third in the league with 10 goals and is the WUSAs second-best points producer with 28.

Wambach can add to those totals today when the Freedom take on the Atlanta Beat at RFK Stadium with a playoff berth within reach. A victory clinches a spot in the postseason for the Freedom.

As far as award voting goes, its up to a media ballot to decide what constitutes a rookie. Wambach, who is in her first year out of Florida, is a true professional rookie. On the other hand, there is Philadelphia Charge forward Marinette Pichon, who is second in the league with 13 goals, but previously played many professional seasons in Europe although this is her first WUSA season.

"I really dont pay attention to that, because if it goes to someone else or goes to me, great," Wambach said of the award. "Pichon is a great player. If she or Birgit [Prinz, Carolina Courage forward] wins the rookie of the year, kudos to them. Were all great players in this league. If I was to be honored with that, I would be very happy and appreciative of the honor."

Wambach, selected by the Freedom with the second overall pick in the WUSA Draft, is coming off a sensational game Wednesday at Carolina, where she scored a goal and added three assists in the Freedoms 5-2 victory.

Freedom coach Jim Gabarra is not at all surprised by Wambachs exploits. Hes particularly thankful for her contributions earlier in the season when star forward Mia Hamm and midfielder Bai Jie were out with injuries and German midfielder Steffi Jones was completing her European commitment.

As for Wambachs game on Wednesday, even the leagues best playmakers rarely record three assists in one game.

"Its kind of a testament to her ability to hold the ball up front and pick people out; we knew thats a part of her game that was a strength as well," Gabarra said. "I dont even remember us getting a shot that wasnt on frame. Eventually, when you do that enough, [shots] are going to start to go in."

According to Wambach, Hamm was hungry for a few goals against the Courage, so she did her best to accommodate her superstar teammate. All of Wambachs assists came in the second half.

"[Hamm] is very easy to play off of her," Wambach said. "She makes runs that make it possible for you to have an assist. With a player like that, a player like Bai Jie, we have two great finishers that play in the game, its not very hard. Its almost a cakewalk for me. I feel pretty fortunate to have gotten those assists."

And the Freedom are pretty fortunate to have her. Today is the Freedoms last home game of the season. They are the leagues hottest club, going 7-1-4 in their last 12 games, and hold a one-point lead over the Beat for third place. The leagues top four finishers qualify for the playoffs.

The Freedom are just three points out of first place and could win the leagues regular-season championship. Or they could lose every game and not make the playoffs.

"If our team keeps on getting better as were doing, I think we have a good shot at winning this thing," Wambach said.

Meanwhile, Freedom defensive midfielder Ann Cook will miss the final two regular-season games because of a torn left meniscus sustained in Wednesdays match at Carolina. Cook, who will undergo arthroscopic surgery in the next few days, hopes to be available for the playoffs on Aug. 17.

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