- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 5, 2002

The Washington Freedom lost last week to the Atlanta Beat 1-0 in the waning seconds of a match that should have ended in a tie. Now the questions loom: Can the Freedom put that loss out of their minds and regroup? Or was the loss so demoralizing that it begins a freefall?
Tonight the Freedom (1-2) will begin to answer those questions when the team takes on the explosive San Diego Spirit (1-1-1) at Torero Stadium.
"It shouldn't have been," Freedom midfielder Pu Wei said through a translator. "That last 30 seconds has never happened to me before."
With forward Mia Hamm out indefinitely while she recovers from knee surgery, losing games in the final seconds doesn't bode well for a team playing without a leader.
"It was really demoralizing," Freedom coach Jim Gabarra said of the Atlanta loss. "If we keep the ball 30 seconds more in the course of the game, and that's what we try to do, they don't get the chance. It's a hard lesson to learn."
The Freedom get a boost with rookie forward Abby Wambach returning. Wambach, who leads the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) with three assists, was called to the U.S. women's national team last Saturday and didn't play against Atlanta. Wambach scored a goal and added an assist in the 3-0 exhibition win over Finland. For her performance, which also included two shots that hit the post, Wambach was named player of the match in her second national team game.
"That will give her some confidence carrying into this weekend and if she can just carry on, it's great for us," Gabarra said. "She's got the personality up there, she's a threat, and everybody else feeds off it."
While Wambach returns, Anne Makinen departs. Makinen, the Freedom's central playmaker, will play for the Finnish national team in a World Cup qualifyer against Switzerland today.
Monica Gerardo will assume Makinen's playmaking role with Pu adding support in the middle. Rookie central defender Casey Zimny may get limited minutes tonight. Zimny, who was penciled in to the start the season, hasn't played in the Freedom's first three games after emergency surgery to repair a ruptured ovarian cyst.
Bai Jie, the Freedom's attacking midfielder/forward, won't start because of a strained knee suffered in the Atlanta loss. Bai will most likely come on as a late substitute for forward Tracey Milburn.
The Freedom's surprisingly good defense gets a major test against the Spirit. Forwards Zhang Ouying and Shannon MacMillan have combined for five goals this season. Last season, the always-dangerous MacMillan scored 12 goals and four of them were against the Freedom.
The Freedom may not view the game as Wambach versus MacMillan, but the best chance the Freedom have for victory or a tie may rest with Wambach. The Freedom are the second-lowest scoring team in the league and Wambach is the team's top points producer.

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