For a team that struggled scoring goals last season, the Washington Freedom now have an imposing forward line.
As expected, the Freedom selected University of Florida forward Abby Wambach with the second overall pick in yesterday’s Women’s United Soccer Association draft. The 5-foot-10 Wambach led the nation with 31 goals last season and is excited about the prospect of playing alongside Freedom superstar Mia Hamm.
“I think our abilities combined would make a hard force to deny,” Wambach said. “At this point in my career, this is the greatest accomplishment or privilege I’ve ever had, playing next to her.”
With her height, Wambach gives the Freedom a dimension the team didn’t have last season. Wambach, 21, says her size enables her to gain a distinct advantage.
“My size helps a lot being able to hold people off and getting to balls in the air,” Wambach said.
The lack of scoring was the biggest reason why the Freedom finished tied for last in their inaugural season. The team failed to score more than two goals in any game and finished with a league-low 26 goals in 21 games.
During the offseason, the Freedom started rectifying the situation by trading ineffective Brazilian forward Pretinha to the San Jose CyberRays for reserve forward Jacqui Little, the identical twin sister of Freedom defender Skylar Little.
Freedom coach Jim Gabarra said Wambach’s Florida record of 24 game-winning goals over four years not only proves she can score, but that she can singlehandedly change the outcome of a game.
“We looked at what we have, addressed all the issues at the end of last season, and [drafting Wambach] is the final piece,” Gabarra said. “She can set people up as well.”
Wambach, a four-time All-American, leaves Florida as the school’s all-time leader in goals (96), assists (49) and points (241). She also recorded 10 hat tricks.
“The first couple weeks of practice, it will be getting my timing down with Mia,” Wambach said. “She has all the tools to teach a young player like myself.”
In the second round, the Freedom chose Connecticut defender Casey Zimny with the 10th overall pick. Zimny, the Big East defender of the year, grew up in the same town (Pittsford, N.Y.) as Wambach and played with her in youth leagues.
The Freedom further bolstered their attack in the third round by selecting UCLA forward Stephanie Rigamat, UCLA’s leading scorer in 2000 and 2001, with the 18th overall pick. The Freedom chose Navy midfielder Justine Fisher (26th overall) in the fourth round.