- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2003

With the goal-scoring tandem of Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach, the Washington Freedom don’t seem likely to stay in third place for long.

The Freedom have become the highest scoring team in the Women’s United Soccer Association, averaging nearly two goals a game. Wambach has five goals in the Freedom’s last five games, while Hamm has four assists over the last five games.

Boston’s Maren Meinert and Dagny Mellgren and Carolina’s Birgit Prinz and Danielle Fotopoulos are generally regarded as the league’s best strike tandems, but Hamm and Wambach are making a case for themselves. Hamm is tied for the league lead with 24 points (seven goals, 10 assists), and Wambach is tied for second in the league with 10 goals.

“It takes a lot of pressure off us knowing that you’re going to get a goal or two a game, and if you have that real solid defensive effort, you’re going to get the result that you need,” Freedom coach Jim Gabarra said.

Hamm, who has played injury-free for the most part, already has eclipsed her best season in the WUSA. Wambach, meanwhile, will set a new career high in goals by scoring once in the Freedom’s next four games.

“Playing with Mia … totally half of her assists are all of my goals pretty much,” the 5-foot-10 Wambach said. “That’s something I don’t take for granted. She knows how much I appreciate all the help she has given me, on the field and off the field. It’s pretty hard not to succeed with balls that Mia plays in the box for me.”

Tonight at RFK Stadium, the Freedom (7-6-4, 25 points) will try to break out of a tight playoff logjam against the San Diego Spirit (6-5-7, 25 points). The winner takes over sole possession of second place in the standings. Only the top four qualify for the playoffs.

“The core of us has been together, and that makes a difference,” Hamm said. “Abby takes some of that pressure off — it takes two players — you almost have to double-team her to stop her. Physically, she’s a target player. She’s got tremendous speed and really good technical speed that surprises a lot of people.”

With four games left, the Freedom are only seven points out of first place and have the easiest remaining schedule of the playoff contenders. They play host to San Diego and then next-to-last place San Jose without top forward Pretinha travel to last-place Philadelphia and conclude the regular season in San Diego on Aug. 9. The top two finishers play host in the playoffs.

If the Freedom win tonight, they almost can assure themselves a playoff spot with a win over the CyberRays at RFK next Saturday.

While the Hamm-Wambach partnership is kept rather quiet, that’s the way both players like it. Too much publicity means too many expectations.

“We actually like to keep it that way,” Wambach said. “Mia and I are both private people, and we like to go about our business and do our jobs on a daily basis. [Meinert, Mellgren, Prinz and Fotopoulos] may have had a breakout middle of the season or first part of the season, but if you come every single day and do you job consistently, all those things will come and you will be head of the leader board.”

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