- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 23, 2002

Forget having the same name as a planet, Venus became a star yesterday at the Washington Freedom's expense.

Carolina Courage midfielder Venus James had not scored a goal in 20 Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) games. Making her first start of the season, James tallied twice and the Courage cruised to a 3-1 victory over the Freedom before 5,761 at RFK Stadium.

The Freedom (4-5-3) rode a four-game unbeaten streak into this game, which was a reality check to see if the Freedom are indeed postseason material with 10 games to play.

The second-place Courage entered yesterday above the Freedom in the WUSA standings and had lost to the Philadelphia Charge on Wednesday. It was a perfect opportunity for the Freedom to make a statement. Instead, the Courage (6-2-3) beat the Freedom for the first time in five tries, dropping them below .500 again.

"I don't know what team showed up out there today," said Freedom coach Jim Gabarra. "All the hard work we did for the last few weeks the team that showed up today was a team that was afraid of their opponent. Too nice and too lackadaisical. That will be addressed next week."

Not even Mia Hamm could save the Freedom from this disaster. Hamm, who had scored two goals and added an assist in the Freedom's previous two games, played the entire second half (45 minutes) in this one. Perhaps the only good news of the game for the Freedom was their star player was able to play significant pain-free minutes after offseason knee surgery.

But that was perhaps the only Freedom highlight. "Our midfielders were utterly hopeless today, all four of them," Gabarra said.

It was James who broke the monotony of a rather drab first half in the 43rd minute with her first career goal to give the Courage a 1-0 halftime lead.

A poor clearance by Freedom central defender and captain Jen Grubb sprung James, who the Courage picked up off waivers from the San Jose CyberRays in the offseason. James alertly collected the deflection at the top of the 18-yard box and dribbled straight in at Freedom goalkeeper Siri Mullinix from the right.

Once James reached the 6-yard box, she faked as if she was going inside and made Mullinix commit. With Mullinix safely on the ground, James slid the ball between Mullinix and the right post for the game's first goal.

"[Mullinix] saw me coming and thought I was going to cross it," James said. "Instead of crossing to the far post, I decided to take it in myself."

James scored her second goal of the game on a header in the 53rd minute that gave the Courage a 2-0 lead.

Referee Todd Perry had issued a yellow card to Freedom defender Emmy Barr for a bad tackle on Courage forward Birgit Prinz, giving the Courage a free kick 25 yards out to the left of the goal. Norwegian midfielder Hege Riise drove the ball to the far post where James easily beat Freedom defender Carrie Moore in the air.

"That's twice as nice," James said of her second goal. "[Moores] a lot shorter than me and the ball came and I just jumped up knowing she could not get it."

The 5-foot-4 Moore was victimized again 14 minutes later by Prinz that gave the Courage and insurmountable 3-0 lead. In the 67th minute, Riise played a ball into space on the right for forward Danielle Fotopoulos, the WUSA's leading goal scorer, to run on.

From outside the box, Fotopoulos crossed to the far post to a diving Prinz, who headed in Fotopoulos' offering into an empty net. Prinz's third goal of the season extended her point streak to five straight games.

"I don't know why we're afraid of that opponent," Gabarra said. "Even playing as poorly as we did in the first half, we had our chances in the second half. We had two or three quality chances that have to be put away."

Chinese midfielder Bai Jie, who came on for Anne Makinen in the 62nd minute, scored the Freedom's lone goal in the 76th minute. Rookie forward Abby Wambach played a through ball to Bai inside the box. When Bai got just inside the penalty spot, she unloaded a right-footed strike that Courage goalkeeper Kristin Luckenbill saved but didn't hold. The ball squirted out from underneath Luckenbill and Bai tapped in her first goal of the season.

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