For the second straight game, the Washington Freedom plan to use Mia Hamm sparingly to avoid further aggravation to her sore right knee.
In Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Atlanta, Hamm came on as a second-half substitute and played 45 minutes. In tonight’s game at second-place Boston (6-4-3), Freedom coach Jim Gabarra figures he’ll use her pretty much the same way.
“Obviously you’d love to have her for 90, but you’ve got to look at five games in 14 days, and maybe now is the time to use her for a half, or start her, play her the first half, get three goals and then defend,” Gabarra said.
Hamm is tied for third among the league’s scoring leaders with seven goals and six assists,
Riding a four-game winless streak, the Freedom (5-4-2) are tied for fourth-place — the last playoff spot — with the New York Power. That’s after maintaining a hold on first place for most of the season.
“We know that these points are crucial. Are we panicking? No,” Freedom captain Jen Grubb said. “We know we have every ability to be a good team. If we come out and play the same way we did in the second half against Atlanta, we have to believe we’ll end up getting results. I just don’t think it’s possible to play that well and not get the results at some point.”
The second half against the Beat was probably the best soccer the Freedom have played all season. The Beat, who are on pace to become the first WUSA team to allow less than one goal a game, were forced to hang on against the Freedom.
The Freedom relentlessly attacked the Beat, with the ball staying in Atlanta’s defensive third all half. Three Freedom shots missed by about 6 inches.
“I told our team after the game that the way they played, that’s what is going to get it done,” Gabarra said. “We couldn’t have been prouder than the way we played and the amount of pressure we put them under. In my opinion, we beat them in every aspect of the game except the one that counts — scoring goals. I think they really came together as a team, and we’re very optimistic about that.”
Given the Freedom’s impressive performance, Gabarra will stick with the same lineup. Emmy Barr has been re-inserted as the starting left back, and Sandra Minnert switches to a defensive midfield position.
The Breakers feature the high-powered goal-scoring tandem of Maren Meinert (eight goals and five assists) and Dagny Mellgren (seven and two). In the first meeting of the season — a 3-1 Boston win on June8 at RFK Stadium — the pair scored two goals. Meinert and Mellgren have been responsible for 60 percent (52 of 86) of the Breakers’ goals all time.
Freedom central defenders Grubb and Carrie Moore will be responsible for limiting Meinert and Mellgren’s space in the box. The Freedom never have beaten the Breakers (0-2-1) at Nickerson Field.
“They’re a great ballhandling team,” Moore said. “If you take one player out of the game, they have others who can step up. It’s definitely a challenge to play against them.”
Said Gabarra: “The challenge is, can you limit what they do, and can you exploit the fact that they tend to give up some goals?”