- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 26, 2002

Perhaps as early as next week, the Washington Freedom may get a huge talent infusion if injured star forward Mia Hamm is able to play limited minutes and talented defender Steffi Jones finally arrives in the District.
Hamm's return date is not definite, but it shouldn't be too much longer. Jones, a 5-foot-11 central defender, should be in uniform for the Freedom's match Saturday at the Boston Breakers after helping lead German club FFC Frankfurt to the UEFA Women's Cup title on Thursday.
Hamm, who led the Freedom last season with six goals and four assists, has resumed training with the team in recent weeks after offseason knee surgery.
Hamm is under no pressure to return early. The team wants FIFA's Player of the Year to have full strength in her left leg before she makes her season debut. However, Freedom coach Jim Gabarra hinted that she may play some Saturday.
"She's looking at June 1st as a game she might play, but more realistically June 8th [at Philadelphia], or even June 12th [Boston]," Gabarra said. "I think it's important that she is 100 percent for the three-game homestand that we have coming up. If we're playing well, it's a little easier to get her some time. If we're struggling, you don't want to put her in a position where you're throwing her out there in the last 15 minutes of a game and she is just trying to get sharp. We need Mia Hamm at 100 percent and not where she is at."
With a quarter of the season completed, the Freedom (2-3-1) have done a credible job persevering without Hamm and Jones two bona fide stars. Tonight's game against the San Jose CyberRays (2-3-1) at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Calif., should be the last the Freedom play without Hamm and Jones.
On April 21 against the CyberRays at RFK Stadium, the Freedom didn't need either player as a spirited second-half effort led to a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over the defending Women's United Soccer Association champions. Goals by newcomer Jacqui Little and reserve forward Meredith Beard secured the Freedom's first victory of the season.
"I think that game was definitely a character check," said rookie forward Abby Wambach, who is second in the WUSA with nine points and is tied for second with three goals. "We know we can play. If we come out and play two halves of soccer in any game, I'm not really quite sure if any team in the league can beat us. If we can get rid of [the CyberRays] midfield like we did last game, we're going to be successful. I think their team is going to be looking for a little revenge."
Jones' arrival will somewhat ease the defensive burden on Wambach, who is making a strong bid for WUSA rookie of the year honors. With Jones back in the lineup, the 5-10 Wambach won't have to be the primary defensive marker on opponents' set pieces. Wambach is solid in the air and has done an excellent job of clearing balls out of the box on corner and free kicks.
Jones. 29, gives the Freedom another tall marker with plenty of experience. This season with Frankfurt, Jones played all over the field striker, defender, midfielder but the Freedom's plan is to have her solidify the back line.
"We're obviously looking forward to having her," Freedom general manager Katy Button said. "She's an incredible player and a mature, smart, savvy defender and a very physical presence. She scores wherever she plays and is a huge presence in the air. That's why we got her. She's coming in game-fit and strong."


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