- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 19, 2003

The Washington Freedom have won once in the last eight games and are slipping out of playoff contention. It’s not crisis time, but it’s getting close.

With six games remaining, the fifth-place Freedom (6-6-3) need to win at least three to secure a WUSA playoff spot. The top four teams qualify.

The Freedom have three homes games and three road games left. If the club takes care of business at home, it should qualify for the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

“I think we should win four to be safe,” Freedom coach Jim Gabarra said. “Obviously, with three at home, you’ve got to win all three of those and that starts this weekend.”

The Freedom’s playoff push begins in earnest tonight against the New York Power (7-7-2) in a soccer doubleheader with D.C. United at RFK Stadium. The Power are currently holding the fourth and final playoff spot — two points ahead of the Freedom. A win over the Power would vault Washington back into playoff contention.

“At this point, we’ve got to look at it as every game is a game we must win,” Freedom captain Jen Grubb said. “We’ve just got to go out and play the way we know how to play.”

The Freedom opened the season on fire by going 4-0-1 and maintained at least a share of first place for most of the early season. Since the excellent start the Freedom have gone 2-6-2.

What’s puzzling about the Freedom’s slide is that the team isn’t playing that poorly. It has perhaps been a bit unlucky, but it’s hard to identify specific reasons why the club is in a tailspin.

“There’s nothing I can pinpoint. If I could, I would address it,” Gabarra said. “It’s very frustrating. What kind of adjustments can you make when you’re happy with the way you’re playing?”

National team call-ups haven’t interfered that much with the starting lineups. Injuries haven’t been a major factor. Only left back Emmy Barr (knee) is out for the season, and the impact of her loss was softened with the arrival of defender Sandra Minnert in late June.

Statistically, the Freedom seem solid. The club is tied for second in the league with 28 goals and average 2.43 goals at home. When scoring firstl, the Freedom are 5-0-1.

Defensively, the Freedom are in the middle of the pack, having allowed 25 goals this season. So why are the Freedom struggling to get results?

“What we’ve talked about is that we have to be consistent, the effort has to be there consistently,” said Mia Hamm, who is tied as the league’s top points producer with 22 (seven goals, eight assists). “You’re going to have these kind of peaks and valleys in games and you try to minimize them as much as you can, and hopefully, in those valleys nothing major happens.”

The team is 1-6-2 when it surrenders the first goal, and in games the Freedom have trailed at halftime, they are 0-5-0. Washington’s record in one-goal games is 1-3-0.

“It’s getting to crunch time now and where we used to say, ‘Hey listen, it’s going to come our way next game.’ It hasn’t and now we have to take control. I think that is the mindset of everyone right now,” Hamm said.

“We have to go in with the mindset that we have to win all of them and not give ourselves any reasons to say, ‘Well, we have the next game.’ We have to take care of every single point. Hopefully tomorrow night, we can go out there with a renewed attitude and make something happen.”


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