- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 28, 2002

At this point of the season, the Washington Freedom will take points any way they can get them. Oh, and thank goodness for Mia Hamm.
Hamm's mere presence in the second half brought excitement to a game that appeared to be a cure for insomnia. Neither team showed a sense of urgency in a match with playoff implications until Hamm strode onto the pitch.
On an assist from Hamm, Freedom rookie Abby Wambach scored the game-winner in the 67th minute as the Freedom shut out the San Diego Spirit 1-0 yesterday at RFK Stadium.
This important victory almost guaranteed the Freedom (8-5-5) their first playoff berth with three games left in the regular season. It also ensured that the sixth-place Boston Breakers (4-8-7) and seventh-place Spirit (4-9-4) cannot finish ahead of the Freedom.
The Freedom's lone goal came out of their midfield. Midfielder Ann Cook, who came on for Sarah Kate Noftsinger in the 57th minute, played a ball in the air to Hamm about 35 yards from the goal.
Hamm trapped the ball and dribbled around a defender before playing the ball forward to Wambach. Wambach one-touched Hamm's ball to the right and unloaded a high right-foot rocket that blew through Spirit goalkeeper Carly Smolak's outstretched arms for her team-leading ninth goal.
"It was a good start and a good attack," Wambach said. "It was a two-touch ball. Mia had it at her feet, and nobody closed her down. She looped it up to me. I was surprised because I thought Mia would take it. I got it, and I hit it hard."
Hamm entered the game at halftime for ineffective Bai Jie and brought instant energy to a lifeless game played mostly in the middle of the field.
"I think for a little while I was still recovering from that 90 minutes [against Philadelphia on July[ThSp]14]," Hamm said. "I was overzealous [then]. The problem with this injury (she'll need offseason knee surgery) is that it's a constant education about what I can do. I felt better out there, and my mindset was better. I don't know where my mind was in the last game."
Hamm, who has started just once this season, nearly scored her fifth goal of the year in the 55th minute.
Freedom right back Skylar Little made a gallant run all the way down the right flank to the touch line and beat Spirit defender Amy Sauer in the process. Little kept the ball inbounds and rolled it back to Hamm, unmarked about eight yards from goal. With a goal begging, Hamm blasted the ball high over the crossbar.
"When Mia comes into the game, we become a more aggressive, attacking team," said Wambach, who has scored four of her nine goals this season against the Spirit.
One wouldn't have known that from the Freedom's attack. In the first half, they had no shots on goal and finished with just three for the game. At least when Hamm came in, the Freedom's offense woke up.
Maybe the Freedom were taking the woeful Spirit too lightly; coming into this game, the Freedom had shut out the Spirit twice by an aggregate 7-0. The Spirit have not scored against the Freedom in 242 minutes dating back to Aug.1.
"It was rewarding to see how this team is reacting going through the gauntlet in the last few weeks," Freedom coach Jim Gabarra said. "It was a blah game in the first half, but what got us out of it was good defending. They had five in the midfield that put a lot of pressure on us. Defending is going to win a championship."

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