- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2002

Pu showed the Washington Freedom the Wei.
Pu Wei, a 21-year-old midfielder, scored an improbable goal off a Mia Hamm corner kick on the last play of yesterday's game, allowing the Freedom to clinch their first playoff berth.
Pu's first goal this year, a header in the 92nd minute, gave the Freedom a dramatic 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Beat in the final home game of the season at RFK Stadium before 10,357 the largest crowd of the season that wasn't a doubleheader with D.C. United.
Hamm, who finished with a goal and two assists, was the player of the game. Her service from the right corner put the Freedom in the playoffs for the first time and exorcised last season's 6-12-3 finish.
On the game-winning goal, Hamm was trying to get the ball to rookie forward Abby Wambach, the Freedom's 5-foot-10 target player, and Pu got in the way literally. Pu somehow came in out of a pack of five players and headed Hamm's offering past goalkeeper Briana Scurry to the left post from 10 yards out.
The Freedom were unable to provide a Chinese-speaking interpreter for Pu to comment on the biggest goal in franchise history, but Hamm offered her take on the play that beat the Beat (10-8-1).
"I didn't know it was [Pu] that headed it first, but I saw the ball redirect, and it was going towards the goal," Hamm said. "I had a great angle on the goal line, and I was like, 'That thing is going in.' Then I saw it hit the net, and I kind of celebrated by myself."
The Freedom (10-5-5) are guaranteed a spot in the Women's United Soccer Association playoffs Aug.17 and have an outside chance to play host to a postseason game. The third-place Freedom trail the Carolina Courage by one point in the race for second place and the home-field advantage that goes to the league's top two finishers. The Freedom are 8-1-4 in their last 13 games.
The Freedom have one game left in the season Saturday at the last-place New York Power (3-15-1) while the Courage play their final two games on the road. Whatever happens, the Freedom have had a remarkable turnaround this season.
"We've talked a lot about last year and what a disappointment it was," Freedom captain Jen Grubb said. "All the way through this year, we just said the same thing is not going to happen. It's pretty sweet knowing now before even our last game of the season that we're in the playoffs. It kind of takes a little bit of pressure off everybody."
What got lost in Pu's last-second game-winner was perhaps the most spectacular goal in WUSA history by Freedom forward Bai Jie, who gave Washington a short-lived 2-1 lead in the 75th minute.
Bai's incredible goal came off another Hamm corner kick. Hamm sent her corner to the near post and found Bai three yards in front of the left post hugging the touch line side-by-side with the goal. Somehow, Bai back-headed Hamm's corner from behind the goal and was able to bend the ball back into the goal with her redirection. Amazingly, the ball landed in the side netting about a foot inside the far post.
"She scored one of those with her foot last year in New York," Freedom coach Jim Gabarra said. "She's behind the goal; how does she get it to go in? I don't know how she manages to bend the ball from almost being out of bounds for a goal."
Two minutes later, Beat forward Cindy Parlow tied the game 2-2 on a header. Charmaine Hooper crossed into the box from the right flank. Parlow, a 5-11 U.S. national team forward, was able to outleap Freedom 5-3 defender Skylar Little and head in the equalizer from eight yards out to the left post.
Hamm, who came off the bench to start the second half, scored a spectacular goal in the 58th minute that tied the game 1-1. Off a goal kick, Hamm took the ball from Bai at the midfield stripe and raced 50 yards down the field, beating three Beat defenders along the way. On the left wing from about 10 yards out, Hamm slotted a left-foot strike to the right post past a badly positioned Scurry.
Hooper scored the only goal in the first half when Beat midfielder Marci Miller played a ball out of the midfield to her inside the 18-yard box. Hooper was able to gain a step on Freedom central defender Carrie Moore and got off a shot with her left foot from 12 yards out that beat Freedom goalkeeper Erin Fahey to the right post.
Note
Ann Cook, the Freedom's starting defensive midfielder, underwent successful knee surgery yesterday to repair a torn meniscus in her left knee. Cook, acquired from the San Jose CyberRays in an offseason trade for midfielder Michelle French, has appeared in 18 games starting 10 for the Freedom and has one assist. Cook is expected to be out 2-to-4 weeks.


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