- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2003

The Washington Freedom’s WUSA road game today against the first-place Atlanta Beat will be devoid of star power because of national team call-ups.

The Beat (7-3-4) have been hit particularly hard with midfielder Homare Sawa (Japan), forwards Maribel Dominguez (Mexico), Cindy Parlow (U.S.) and goalkeeper Briana Scurry (U.S.) absent.

The Freedom (6-4-3) will be without forwards Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and goalkeeper Siri Mullinix, who are with the U.S. team for tomorrow’s Women’s World Cup tuneup against Brazil in New Orleans. Japan faces Mexico today in a playoff for a World Cup spot.

“We are going to try to make the least amount of changes possible,” Freedom coach Jim Gabarra said.

One change Gabarra will have to make is in goal, where Canadian Nicci Wright makes her Freedom debut today. Gabarra opted to start the 5-foot-10 Wright over Erin Regan because of Wright’s familiarity with Charmaine Hooper, the Beat’s dangerous goal scorer, from her days with Hooper on the Canadian national team.

Hooper (seven goals, six assists) has scored five goals against the Freedom in her career, three of them game-winners.

“This is a Canadian intrasquad [game] worth points,” Gabarra said jokingly. “I think Nicci is capable of doing the job. She’s played with and against Hooper most of her career.

With their top two goal scorers away, the Freedom will be most affected up front. Gabarra said he plans to use Lori Lindsey in Hamm’s role and pair her with either rookie Laura Schott or Meredith Beard.

Lindsey scored her second goal of the season Wednesday in the Freedom’s 4-2 victory over the Philadelphia Charge. Defensive midfielder Lindsay Stoecker also scored a goal against the Charge and has become an improbable weapon this season.

Coming into this season, Stoecker, who missed 12 games including the playoffs last season with a torn ACL, had not scored a goal in her three-year career. With her fourth goal of the season against the Charge, Stoecker is tied with Jacqui Little as the Freedom’s third-best points producer behind Hamm and Wambach.

“I’ve noticed that I’ve been getting into the attack more lately,” Stoecker said. “We’ve been playing a lot more attacking soccer than I feel we did in the first half of the season. It’s just allowed more opportunities for everyone. I’m just trying to get balls on frame and hopefully they’ll get in or bounce off someone.”

Shorthanded or not, this a big game for both teams. Arguably the Freedom’s finest performance of the season came against the Beat two weeks ago in a 1-0 loss. Washington totally dominated the second half and had the Beat’s stout defense playing on its heels.

Fortune smiled on the Beat that day because the Freedom should have scored at least three goals on shots that missed by inches. The Beat have allowed 12 goals this season, fewest in the league.

A Freedom victory would put the club one point behind the Beat for first place. A Beat win would give Atlanta a comfortable six-point cushion over its nearest challenger in a tightly contested playoff race. The top four teams in the eight-team league qualify for the playoffs.

“We’re definitely happy with how we played [last time], but against any team that will make them even more angry,” Freedom defender Carrie Moore said. “I think we need to be aware of that. I think we can learn from our last game, but we can’t go in thinking it’s going to be the same way.”

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