- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

Mia Hamm made her season debut in spectacular fashion.

It took Hamm just seven minutes to score her first goal, which turned out to be the eventual game-winner in the Freedom's 2-1 victory over the Boston Breakers before a franchise-low 4,399 last night at RFK Stadium.

More impressive than Hamm's curling, perfectly placed 15-yard laser in the 72nd minute was her individual effort to set up the shot. Hamm entered the game in the 65th minute for forward Jacqui Little. From the left flank five minutes later, Hamm sent a cross into the box, but a Breakers defender sent it back out to her.

Hamm retrieved the ball and danced past rookie defender Jena Kluegel. Once Hamm was a step past Kluegel, the world's all-time leading goal scorer found the upper right corner.

Hamm's goal delivered the Freedom (3-4-3) to the first win in their last six games and put the team back into playoff contention. The win also was the Freedom's first-ever against the Breakers.

"It felt good to get back out there," said Hamm, who hasn't played in a competitive match since the Unity Games last Nov.3 because of left knee surgery. "I'm not game-fit by any means. As a front-runner, they want you to score goals."

Hamm played a total of 27 minutes and wore a specially designed wrap to protect her knee. During her limited playing time, she showed the ball skill and superb touch that the team sorely lacks.

If yesterday's performance is any indicator, Hamm's return should spark the struggling Freedom.

"We need our star players on the field," Freedom coach Jim Gabarra said. "It's very gratifying to see her go out there and score a goal. I think that is going to rub off on the team and give them confidence. When she's on the field, she's a presence. That's a fact."

Before the teams even broke a sweat, the Breakers (2-4-4) jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on forward Dagny Mellgren's sixth goal of the season when she caught the Freedom flat-footed in the fourth minute.

Breakers midfielder Kristine Lilly played a ball from the midfield to forward Maren Meinert. Meinert, who retired last year from the German national team after helping Germany capture the 2001 European Championship, sent a through ball to Mellgren inside the 18-yard box.

Mellgren ran between Freedom defender Jen Grubb and midfielder Lindsay Stoecker. From 12 yards, Mellgren placed the ball inside the right post for the game's first goal. Mellgren's goal tied her with San Jose CyberRays striker Katia for the league lead.

The Freedom answered with the equalizer right before halftime. In the 45th minute, rookie Abby Wambach scored her team-high fourth goal on a cross from midfielder Anne Makinen. But the real hero on the Freedom's tying goal was Little, who collected the ball at the midfield stripe from newly arrived German midfielder Steffi Jones.

Little, whose identical twin sister Skylar starts as the Freedom's right back, showed incredible determination and ran with the ball from the midfield stripe all the way to the top of the 18-yard box.

From there, she found Makinen, who came on in the 36th minute for midfielder Ann Cook, with space on the right. Makinen sent a low cross that found its way through two Breakers defenders to Wambach. From three yards out, Wambach tapped in the equalizer that went through Breaker defender Kate Sobrero's legs.


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