- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2003

The timing couldn’t be worse.

In the heat of the Women’s United Soccer Association playoff race, the Washington Freedom will lose starting midfielder Kelly Golebiowski for two games because of national team duty.

The Freedom’s left-flank midfielder will miss tonight’s game at the Boston Breakers and Saturday’s home match against the San Diego Spirit to play for Australia in the 3-Nation’s International Women’s Soccer Tournament in Japan. All three teams in the tournament — Australia, South Korea and Japan — have qualified for this year’s Women’s World Cup.

The Australian Soccer Federation waited until the last available day — FIFA has a 14-day notice for international call-ups — to notify the Freedom it wanted Golebiowski for the tournament. Given the short notice, the Freedom originally turned down the request but then relented after talking with Golebiowski, who was named to the international team for this year’s WUSA All-Star Game.

“She said she wanted to go, and I let her go,” Freedom coach Jim Gabarra said. “It was important to her that she goes. The tournament was put together after Japan qualified for the World Cup [on July 12]. They took it to the last minute, and if they waited they wouldn’t have made the deadline.”

With only five regular-season games left, the Freedom can’t afford to lose any players down the stretch, let alone Golebiowski. The Freedom (7-6-3) are tied for third place with the Spirit (6-5-6), but seven of the league’s eight teams remain in playoff contention. The top four teams qualify for the postseason.

The attacking midfielder ranks fifth on the team in points with two goals and two assists and is one of the few Freedom players who can serve the ball into the box and make something happen.

For instance, in the Freedom’s 2-0 victory over the New York Power on Saturday, Golebiowski created some good scoring chances in the box and tracked back defensively.

“I thought she played her best game for our team,” Gabarra said.

To compensate for Golebiowski’s absence, Gabarra will insert Jacqui Little (two goals and five assists) into a right-flank midfield role and switch Meredith Beard over to the left.

Up top, Gabarra will stay with the league’s highest-scoring tandem — Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach. Hamm (seven goals and nine assists) and Wambach (nine goals and four assists) have combined for 45 points this season. Hamm is the WUSA’s scoring leader with 23 points and leads the league in assists. Wambach’s nine goals ties her for second in the WUSA with Carolina’s Birgit Prinz.

The Freedom are 0-2-2 all time at Boston’s Nickerson Field and need to beat the second-place Breakers (7-4-5) by at least two goals tonight to earn the playoff tiebreaker with Boston.

“We got our neck off the chopping block in our last game,” Gabarra said of the Freedom’s postseason chances. “If we draw in this game, we can feel good. A win could propel us to great things this season. A loss and we’re just a team still looking to get into the playoffs.”

Note — If Freedom goalkeeper Siri Mullinix beats the Breakers tonight, she will become just the fourth WUSA goalkeeper to win 20 games in her career, joining Atlanta’s Brianna Scurry, San Jose’s LaKeysia Beene and Carolina’s Kristen Luckenbill.

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