- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 19, 2002

Washington Freedom coach Jim Gabarra can hardly contain his excitement about the upcoming season. With this week's acquisition of German defender Steffi Jones and Chinese midfielder Pu Wei, Gabarra believes the pieces are in place for a successful run in 2002.
Gabarra surprised people in recent months when he traded Brazilian striker Pretinha and midfielder Michelle French to San Jose for midfielder Ann Cook and forward Jacqui Little. He also waived solid defender Amanda Cromwell. In a wide-ranging interview this week, Gabarra defended those moves as being necessary for him to acquire Jones and Pu.
Gabarra believes Pu will bring out the best in her Chinese teammate, Bai Jie, and help create "team chemistry," while Jones will "stabilize the defense."
More importantly for Gabarra, the club will start the season with a fit and rested Mia Hamm. The national team star is taking a long break from competition to be in peak form for the Women's United Soccer Association opener against the New York Power on April 13 at RFK Stadium.
Hamm's so-called "leg injury" was vastly exaggerated by U.S. Soccer. The star forward apparently just needed a break and now is getting intensive strength conditioning in Phoenix.
"Last year was the worst soccer experience in her life," Gabarra said. "She was carrying the league on her shoulders. She had commitments to sponsors. She had just had shoulder surgery, and her personal life was in an upheaval. She needed time off."
Don't expect Gabarra to experiment with Hamm playing in the midfield or on right flank this season because "I certainly now know that Mia is not comfortable playing on the flank."
Gabarra says he will play a 4-3-3 formation, with Hamm and Tracey Milburn, Monica Gerardo or Jacqui Little starting in the attack. Brazilian striker Roseli also will be available off the bench.
Gabarra believes defender Skylar Little may play better with the arrival of her twin sister, Jacqui, and Roseli will have more confidence now that she is not competing with Pretinha.
The Freedom are looking to get a starting player with the second pick in the college draft. Gabarra would like to select Florida star striker Abby Wambaugh, who led the nation in scoring last year. If the club can't get Wambaugh, it will go after Santa Clara defender Danielle Slaton.
The Freedom will play 11 home games at RFK Stadium, one more than last season. Tentatively, the team will play five home games on Saturdays, three on Sundays and three on Wednesday nights.
The club again will hold two doubleheaders with D.C. United at RFK and hopes to play the San Jose CyberRays in a doubleheader with the Colorado Rapids in Denver for the Rapids' home opener March 30.
The Freedom were predicted to be the team to beat last season but ended up tied for last spot in the WUSA with a 6-12-3 record.
Gold Cup U.S. coach Bruce Arena is not getting too excited over the 12-team CONCACAF Gold Cup, which kicks off today when the Americans face South Korea at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Arena is missing potentially nine starters from his roster, with nearly all his overseas-based players remaining with their European clubs. But today's game will give Arena vital information about World Cup rival South Korea, which reportedly is bringing 90 percent of its team.
"This is probably their strongest team," Arena said. "This is an advantage to us because they are not seeing our full team."
The Americans play South Korea, along with Poland and Portugal in the opening round of the World Cup this June in South Korea.
"Is this a must win?" Arena said of today's game. "To me, the only must win against Korea is on June 10th."
The U.S. fell to the South Koreans 1-0 in Korea on Dec. 9.
D.C. United defender Eddie Pope did not make the U.S. team's 18-man roster for today's game. Former Maryland defender Danny Califf, who has impressed Arena in training, made the cut.
In other developments, the U.S. team will play World Cup qualifier Ecuador at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., on March 10.
United rumor alert An article posted on the official Web site of Premier League club Everton yesterday says there are rumors that English star Paul "Gazza" Gascoigne could be heading to D.C. United to join fellow Brit and Newcastle native Ray Hudson, United's new coach.
"He'd love to come to America, and America would love him," Hudson is quoted as saying.
Roy the golfer Former U.S. team star and D.C. United striker Roy Wegerle is now a pro golfer. Wegerle had a creditable four-over 76 at the Dunhill Championship in Johannesburg on Thursday. But the 37-year-old failed to make the cut, going 12-over par yesterday.

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