- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2003

SAN DIEGO — This is the matchup the Women’s United Soccer Association has been eagerly awaiting.

The Atlanta Beat and the Washington Freedom are the two winningest teams in the history of the three-year WUSA, and yet they never have met in the championship game. Both appeared in Founders Cup matches but came away as second best. Today in Founders Cup III at San Diego’s Torero Stadium, one will finally gain the trophy.

“There is certainly an element of justice, which is often not the case in the game. There are no guarantees that everybody gets what they deserve, but this season you saw the two best teams make it to the final, which is sometimes rare,” Beat coach Tom Stone said.

“You’ve got [Beat goalkeeper Briana Scurry] versus Mia [Hamm], and you’ve got the two starting goalkeepers [Scurry and the Freedom’s Siri Mullinix] for the national team. You’ve got the oldest player [Charmaine Hooper] and one of the best scorers in the history of the game on our team, and you’ve got maybe the young, rising great scorer [Abby Wambach] on their team. It’s got everything. I hope the game lives up to the potential.”

The teams have put on some interesting matches. The Beat own a 6-2-1 edge on the Freedom, with the six wins decided by one goal and four decided in the final 10 minutes.

“They are always entertaining games, and it’s a good matchup,” said Freedom coach Jim Gabarra, whose team fell 3-2 to the Carolina Courage in last year’s Founders Cup. “It’s a physical team that wants to play pretty direct most times and a team that wants to possess the ball and play a little more possession soccer.”

The Beat (10-4-8), who finished second in the regular season, play a physical, hard-nosed brand of soccer, and it shows on the defensive end. The team established a WUSA record by allowing only 19 goals this season. The defense is successful because it knocks players off the ball.

“If there is a trick [to breaking the Beat’s defense down], I don’t think anyone has figured it out yet,” said Hamm, who was tied for the league lead in scoring with 11 goals and 11 assists. “We have to be smart in our attacking third. We have to take advantage if they make a mistake. With Bri in goal, it’s going to be a serious shot that beats her. It’s tough, but at the same time we can’t let that intimidate us.”

The key to the game will be whether the Freedom’s league-leading offense (40 goals) can penetrate the Beat’s back four of Kylie Bivens, Nancy Augustyniak, Sharolta Nonen and rookie Leslie Gaston.

Bivens is in the U.S. Women’s World Cup team pool, Nonen was named to the All-WUSA first team this season, Augustyniak played in this year’s WUSA All-Star Game and Stone calls Gaston “a warrior.”

“We’re concerned about both of their forwards [Hamm and Wambach], but we’re pretty sound defensively,” Scurry said. “We had a great season in the back, and our defensive midfielders [Nikki Serlenga and Marci Miller] helped out a lot with that, too, blocking an awful lot of shots and not even getting to me.”

The Freedom (10-8-4) want to spread the field and attack the flanks. In three games against Atlanta this season, the Freedom were 0-2-1.

“The most important thing about the game is if every single person on our team comes to play, then worrying so much about them isn’t going to be a factor,” said Wambach, who finished second in the league with 13 goals and shared the scoring title with Hamm (33 points). “At this point, it’s not about them. It’s about us.”

The Beat gets its toughness from Hooper, their 35-year-old captain. Hooper scored 11 goals with seven assists — the best scoring season (29 points) of her WUSA career. Hooper scored the game-winning goal fives times in the Beat’s six victories over the Freedom.

In past games, Gabarra used central defender Carrie Moore on Hooper. However, forward Maribel Dominguez (seven goals), right-flank midfielder Cindy Parlow (three goals and five assists) and central midfielder Homare Sawa (three goals and four assists) are also dangerous, and Gabarra can’t afford to use Moore like that again.

“If they feel that is what is going to stop me, then it’s their choice,” Hooper said. “For them to use [Moore] to man-mark me, I don’t know how smart that is because there are other players on the field that are just as dangerous.”

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