- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 21, 2003

The former Washington Freedom strikeforce of Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach is too explosive to ignore, or for that matter, separate.

U.S. women’s team coach April Heinrichs won’t say who her starting 11 will be for today’s Women’s World Cup opener against formidable Sweden which opens GroupA play at RFK Stadium. It would make sense to have the Freedom teammates in the lineup.

Hamm and Wambach each shared the now-defunct WUSA scoring title with 33 points this past season as they led their team to the championship in Founders Cup III. Hamm is the U.S. team’s best player and Wambach is its hottest coming off her dramatic “golden goal” in overtime of the Founders Cup that secured the championship and earned her game MVP honors.

“When you feel your confidence is at its peak going into the World Cup, it really helps,” Wambach said.

With the folding of the WUSA, it’s likely this will be the last time Hamm and Wambach play together on RFK’s pitch. And if Heinrichs’ starting lineup in the U.S. team’s final World Cup tuneup — a 5-0 rout of Mexico on Sept.7 — is any indicator, Hamm and Wambach will be two-thirds of the Americans’ forward line. Cindy Parlow would complete it.

“[Wambach] is a tremendous player and one of those that I feel very fortunate to have played alongside the past two years, and now that she is on the national team, it gives us another huge weapon,” said Hamm, the world’s all-time leading goal scorer with 142.

“When Abby is up there, she adds a different dimension that we haven’t had. She’s got the pace to run past people. She’s got the strength to hold people off. She can win balls in the air. She can beat a defense by just someone serving her and her flicking it on.”

The 5-foot-10 Wambach is fearless in the box. The 23-year-old will challenge anyone, including goalkeepers. Wambach would send a clear message to the rest of the World Cup field — the United States won’t relinquish its title without a fight.

“We want to let other teams know that we’re there, and we’re there be it high pressure, physical, or whatever it may be,” said left-flank midfielder Kristine Lilly, who is one of five players who will have appeared in all four World Cups. “Whenever our team has stepped on the field, we have a presence and we have to make our presence known.”

If Heinrichs starts the same team against Sweden as she did against Mexico expect a 4-3-3 formation with veteran Briana Scurry in goal. The backline would consist of Kate Sobrero on the right, Joy Fawcett and Brandi Chastain centrally, and Christie Pearce on the left. In the midfield, Aly Wagner and Shannon Boxx, who are both first-timers on the U.S. World Cup team, will be in the middle with Lilly on the left.

Heinrichs held a team meeting last night and reportedly went over the scouting report and informed her team of today’s starters against FIFA’s fifth-ranked team in the world.

The Swedes believe their domestic Allsvenskan pro league has their team in top form to take on the powerful Americans. Sixteen of Sweden’s 20-player roster plays for one of three teams — Umea IK, Malmo or Djurgarden/Alvsjo — all of which are in title contention.

“I think our league has us ready for the World Cup,” Swedish midfielder Linda Fagerstrom said on FIFA’s Web site.

Meanwhile, on the U.S. side, 19 of the 20-player roster competed in the recently-folded WUSA.

The key to Sweden’s attack is diminutive 5-3 forward Hanna Ljungberg, who scored Sweden’s only goal when the teams met — a 1-1 tie at the Algarve Cup in Portugal in May. The speedy Ljungberg, whom many consider the best player in the world, has 50 goals in 89 games for Sweden.

“She’s one of those forwards that I like to term ‘very slippery’ that someone has to keep tabs on all the time,” said Scurry, who is 27-0-4 in her last 31 U.S. games. “Just when you think you have her, she may be crafty and slip away.”

With North Korea’s impressive 3-0 pounding of Nigeria yesterday in opening GroupA action, the United States, the group favorite, needs to keep pace. A loss or tie would make things interesting the rest of the way in group play.

“We’re looking for three points tomorrow,” Chastain said. “[A draw] would make for good print, but three points is what we’re looking for.”

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