- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002

The Washington Freedom control their playoff destiny, but they realistically need three points to secure one of the four playoff spots in the Women's United Soccer Association.

Currently in third place, the Freedom (7-5-5) could separate themselves from two other teams with a win over the struggling San Diego Spirit (4-8-4) today at RFK Stadium in the first game of a doubleheader with D.C. United.

With 26 points, the Freedom are one point ahead of the Atlanta Beat and four points ahead of the San Jose CyberRays for the two final playoff spots. It would probably take a complete catastrophe for the Freedom not to qualify for the playoffs with four games left.

This season is redemption for the Freedom. Last year most observers expected Washington to win the championship, but the team finished tied for last at 6-12-3.

"We're all well aware that last season wasn't anywhere close to where we wanted it or where it should have been," said captain and central defender Jen Grubb. "We turned around and all made a commitment to come out this year and get things done both on and off the field. This last nine-, 10-game stretch proves we're in it for the long haul. I would guess that we're bound for the playoffs."

First, the Freedom have to take care of business on the field. Coach Jim Gabarra will have some changes in his midfield for the second straight game.

Sarah Kate Noftsinger will make her second start in the midfield. Noftsinger, whom the Freedom signed to their reserve team earlier in the season, is being used primarily to give midfielder Ann Cook a breather.

Another midfield move will have Monica Gerardo start for injured playmaker Anne Makinen. Makinen tweaked her gimpy right ankle in the Freedom's 1-1 draw against the Boston Breakers and will be held out as a precaution.

Gabarra said he will not start star forward Mia Hamm but expects to give her 30 to 45 minutes of playing time.

So far this season, the Freedom have shut out the Spirit twice by a combined 7-0. Freedom rookie forward Abby Wambach has three of her team-high eight goals this season against the Spirit.

"They're in a desperate situation; they're fighting for their lives," Gabarra said downplaying the Freedom's dominance over the Spirit. "We've just got to match that intensity and play to our strengths, which is keeping the ball, defending solidly, and putting our chances away."

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