- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 21, 2002

National team duty could not have come at a worse time for the Washington Freedom.
U.S. coach April Heinrichs called in forwards Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach the Freedom's top two goal scorers for today's friendly against Norway, leaving the Freedom short-handed for a critical game with playoff implications.
The Freedom (6-5-4) are in a three-way logjam for third place with the San Jose CyberRays (6-5-4) and Atlanta Beat (7-7-1) in the Women's United Soccer Association. With the three teams battling for two remaining playoff spots, not having Hamm or Wambach for tonight's road match against the CyberRays doesn't look good for the Freedom, especially with just six regular-season games left.
The Freedom are third in the tiebreaking procedure and could miss the WUSA playoffs for a second straight season. Every point is critical for the Freedom, and without Wambach (seven goals, five assists) and Hamm (four goals, one assist) in the lineup, their playoff chances do not look good.
"You realize there is nothing you can do," coach Jim Gabarra said. "It's not like they've played five [exhibitions] this year and we could deny the call-up. It certainly puts a damper on our scoring effectiveness."
No question. Wambach, the likely WUSA's Rookie of the Year, and Hamm have accounted for 11 of the Freedom's 23 goals. The Freedom have gone 4-1-1 since Hamm returned to the lineup June 12 after a lengthy rehabilitation following knee surgery. Without her, the Freedom have gone 2-4-3 this season.
To replace his missing firepower, Gabarra will start Bai Jie and Tracey Milburn at forward. Gabarra said he decided to start Milburn over Jacqui Little because he wants more of a presence in the air, something the 5-foot-9 Milburn provides.
"[Milburn] is a little bigger and a better matchup on set pieces," Gabarra said. "Jacqui will probably play at least a half."
Freedom midfielder Anne Makinen will not make the trip because of an injured right ankle, leaving another hole Gabarra must fill. Monica Gerardo likely will step in for Makinen.
The CyberRays also have lost two stars goalkeeper LaKeysia Beene and defender Brandi Chastain to national team duty. However, these losses do not weaken the CyberRays as much as the not having Wambach and Hamm does the Freedom.
Former Freedom goalkeeper Dawn Greathouse will start in goal for the CyberRays and have plenty of motivation to beat her former team. The Freedom waived Greathouse in early May to create a roster spot for German midfielder Steffi Jones.
Unlike the Freedom, the CyberRays have their top goal scorer available in Brazilian forward Katia, who is second in the league with 11 goals and is the WUSA's reigning Player of the Week.
"She's a hot, streaky player," Gabarra said. "We'll stick Carrie Moore on her and see how that works. She's stopped [Tiffany] Milbrett and [Marinette] Pichon, so I don't see why Carrie can't shut her down."
The Freedom will play their next four games in 10 days, a stretch that will determine whether they make the playoffs.


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