Changes and a new arrival
I’m going to go into some detail on the Freedom’s 2002 season because it was really special. I followed the Orioles when they won the World Series in 1983. I boarded the Redskins bandwagon through their three Super Bowl wins. My high school football team won the state championship in 1974. But for all that my favorite single season of following any sports team was the Freedom in 2002. You’ll understand why by the time I’m done.
The advantage of finishing next-to last in the league was getting the second draft pick. And Abby Wambach, a tall, powerful forward from the University of Florida, was in the draft. Now keep in mind that Abby didn’t have the reputation she has now. She was highly regarded, yes, but only as a topnotch college player, not as a national team stalwart – in fact she only had something like 17 career minutes on the field with the national team. So it’s not hugely surprising that the Carolina Courage went instead for defender Danielle Slaton, who had several years and 35 caps with the national team, earning an Olympic silver medal with them in Sydney in 2000. (Slaton, alas, had ongoing problems with her knee and had to retire early, else she’d likely be as familiar a name now as Whitehill or Mitts. [Of course, as I republish this she’s doing color commentary for CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying.)
Meanwhile, coach Gabarra was doing major housecleaning, trading away players and bringing in some fresh blood. Michelle French and Pretinha went to the CyberRays in exchange for Ann Cook and scrappy midfielder Jacqui Little, who would join her identical twin sister Skylar. Roseli was cut, to be replaced in the international allocation by Chinese captain Pu Wei. Amanda Cromwell is also cut and is picked up off waivers by the Atlanta Beat. Another coup is signing German national team star Steffi Jones, who doesn’t count as an international because her father’s an American citizen. The only downside is that Steffi can’t join the team until after the German season ends in May.
In the offseason, I had decided to put together a fan website. Initially, it was going to be titled Carrie-and-Keri, for my two favorite players, but Keri Sarver was swept away in the general housecleaning, so it ended up being one just for Carrie Moore. (Still online here http://home.comcast.net/~StarCityFan/carriemoore.html , by the way, though I haven’t done much with it in a long time.)
The auguries for the season were not good. Mia Hamm’s knee continued to be troublesome, and she finally underwent surgery in January of 2002 that would leave her unavailable for at least the first third of the season and not full-game fit until much later than that. The Freedom’s second-round draft pick, Casey Zimny, had to undergo emergency surgery to deal with a life-threatening ovarian cyst rupture and was on injured reserve. The team’s top two goalkeepers, Siri Mullinix and Erin Fahey, came down with injuries, leaving the reserve goalkeeper, Dawn Greathouse, as the starter. Dawn’s previous claim to Freedom fame was serving as the team’s mascot, Glory, for one game when the regular person for the job was unavailable.
The opening match was against the New York Power, and once again Carrie Moore would start, in place of Skylar Little this time, who was sitting out due to the ejection she received at the end of the previous season. The game started well. Monica Gerardo scored an impressive goal early, and Carrie managed a clean, highlight-reel strip of the ball off the Power’s star forward, Tiffeny Milbrett, in the penalty area. Later, though, Tiffeny managed to beat Carrie and score, and the team lost all composure after that, losing 4-1. Carrie even gets her first yellow card in WUSA play. It looked like 2001 all over again, with the defending champion CyberRays coming to town for the second match.
But that match proved to be a different story. The CyberRays scored first, but the Freedom remained composed and stayed in the game. My girl Carrie came very close to tying the score herself: during one Freedom corner kick, the ball came out to her in her defensive position about thirty yards out from goal. At that distance, she had plenty of time to place the ball for her right foot, whereupon she launched a rocket of a shot directly toward the upper-right-hand corner of the goalmouth. It took an all-out lunge from WUSA Goalkeeper of the Year LaKeysia Beene to keep Carrie off the highlight reel for a second week in a row.
New acquisition Jacqui Little ended up making the tying score in the 49th minute, off a pass from Pu Wei that went through Abby Wambach. Then, late in the game, a pass from Bai Jie to Abby Wambach beat San José’s offsides trap. Abby came into goal unopposed, drew the goalkeeper’s attention, then laid the ball off to Meredith Beard, who had an easy putaway for the win. It was the team’s first win in seven games, and an indication that maybe 2002 would not be like 2001.
The third match was against the archrival Atlanta Beat on the road, and this time Carrie would be on the wrong side of a highlight-reel play: First, in the 61st minute, Emily Burt of the Beat collided at full speed with Dawn Greathouse. Emily got up after a few minutes, but Dawn had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. When she got to the hospital the doctors thought she’d been in a car accident. Siri Mullinix, still not fully recovered, came in as the substitute. Then, with seconds remaining in stoppage time, a miscommunication between Siri and Carrie over a loose ball in the penalty area allowed Charmaine Hooper to score. The referee blew the whistle just seconds after play restarted. It was a gut-wrenching 1-0 loss.
The Freedom headed to the west coast for a May 5 match with the San Diego Spirit. In addition to injury shortages, they will be without Anne Makinen due to a national team callup. Meanwhile, the Spirit are the top-scoring team in the WUSA. The Freedom get a break early, as in the 22nd minute Jacqui Little attempts a centering pass from the right flank that goes off the crossbar, the left sidepost, and goes into the net. Sixteen minutes later, Abby Wambach gets her first professional goal with Monica Gerardo finding Skylar Little (Jacqui’s twin sister) down the right flank. Skylar got past a defender, centered the ball to Pu Wei, who slipped it to Wambach, who put it in the net. The scoring was completed when Wambach was fouled in the Spirit’s penalty area and Monica Gerardo made the PK. Amazingly, the Freedom shut down the Spirit scoring machine. Carrie played another 90 minutes, her highlight-reel appearance this time being a clean steal off Shannon Macmillan, who is coming full force toward the goal, then suddenly is on the ground and Carrie has the ball heading the other direction. At this point, my girl already has more playing minutes than she did the entirety of the 2001 season, and the Freedom have a 3-0 win, the most decisive in their short history.
May 11 brings another road match, this one against the Philadelphia Charge at Villanova Stadium. Abby gets one goal, but the Charge score three, and the Freedom continue their trend of alternating wins and losses. The highlight reel event this time is a jawdropping 60-yard downfield run from brilliant Charge midfielder Kelly Smith, who makes the entire Freedom defense look silly as she runs through them all to score.
May 18 is a home match at RFK against the Carolina Courage. Casey Zimny is healthy again, so Carrie sits. Abby scores her third goal in three games, but Hege Riise of the Courage matches it, and the game is a 1-1 tie.
Their seventh game is on the road against the CyberRays. Carrie sits again, and the Freedom lose, 2-0, off two goals from Katia, who finishes the match with more shots on goal than the entire Freedom team.
With a third of the season gone, the Freedom have amassed a 2-4-1 record, which ties them for last place with the hapless New York Power, who themselves have only managed one win since beating the Freedom on opening day. However, with Steffi Jones free to join the team shortly and Mia Hamm on the mend, the cavalry is coming over the hill.
Next time: Steffi and Mia to the rescue!