- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2002

The German word for good-luck charm is "glueckpfennig," according to Steffi Jones. For the Washington Freedom their good-luck charm is Jones herself.

The Freedom have lost just one game since the German midfielder joined the starting 11.

"The team is playing better and has more luck," Jones said. "Earlier, we had some games we lost in the final five minutes, now the luck seems to be on our side. If I am the reason for it, then I'm happy. I just want to play well for the team and help them and it seems to be working out fine."

Since the 5-foot-11 Jones became the starting defensive midfielder June8 against Philadelphia, the third-place Freedom (7-5-4) have gone 5-1-2. Jones, who didn't join the Freedom until early June because of commitments to German club FFC Frankfurt, has made a smooth transition to her new team.

Part of that stems from her superior talent. Jones has excellent possession skills and is an adept passer. Very seldom does she lose the ball from a poor first touch or errant pass. While Jones has just two assists in 720 minutes, the Freedom didn't bring her in to be a points producer.

"More importantly, is she is just real calm, so she has a calming influence on the team," Freedom coach Jim Gabarra said. "You know when the ball gets played in to her, she's real relaxed and she's not going to lose it. A little bit of that rubs off on the players around her and she's very reliable."

Last season, the Freedom's midfield contributed greatly to the club's 6-12-3 last-place finish. This season, the Freedom have three new midfielders anchored by Jones in the middle and the team is finally winning.

With Jones controlling the midfield, the Freedom's defense has improved. The Freedom have the third-best goals-against average in the eight-team Women's United Soccer Association. The Freedom have allowed 22 goals this season and are one behind Carolina's 21 for second-best. Last season, the Freedom allowed 35 goals second-worst in the WUSA.

Jones can't take full credit for the Freedom's defensive resurgence. Central defender Carrie Moore has played a pivotal role in man-marking opponents' high-powered goal scorers. However, the experience the 29-year-old Jones brings to the Freedom is invaluable. Jones knows where to go in defensive transition so the Freedom's alignment doesn't lose its shape.

Jones is the tallest member of the Freedom and provides a physical presence in the middle. She has 74 caps with the German national team. That's experience.

"She adds so much to our midfield," said Freedom captain and central defender Jen Grubb. "Just in that defensive midfield, she and I have a good understanding together. If she has dropped, I know I can step out, or if I've stepped, I just know that she is going to drop in there without having to turn around and say, 'Oh, is she back there?' She's just a good player. So anytime you add her caliber of player into a team, I think you are going to get better results."

Tonight at RFK Stadium against the Boston Breakers (4-8-5), Jones and her teammates are looking to deliver a knockout blow on the Breakers' playoff chances.

The Freedom are coming off Sunday's huge 3-2 victory at the San Jose CyberRays. With 25 points and tied with the Atlanta Beat for third place, the Freedom control their destiny. The top four teams qualify for the playoffs.

If last season was any indication, 30 points is the magic number. Last season's playoff teams all secured more than 30 points. With five games left three at home the Freedom look to be a pretty safe bet to eclipse the 30-point plateau.

"If we go into every game thinking it's a final, then we'll see what we can do," Jones said. "I don't know how many games we have to win. We want to win all games. I'm confident that we'll get into the playoffs."


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