Category Archives: Washington Freedom

Playoffs at the ‘Plex

Lori Lindsey holds off Marta, from a gameday program cover for the last team to have a women's professional soccer match at the 'Plex, the 2009 Washington Freedom.

Lori Lindsey holds off Marta, from a gameday program cover for the last team to have a women’s professional soccer playoff match at the ‘Plex, the 2009 Washington Freedom.

Based on what I’ve read on Twitter and elsewhere, Spirit fans have a definite glass-half-empty feeling about losing the first-place spot the last weekend of the season after having held it for several weeks previously. But look on the bright side: this is the best regular-season finish in the history of Washington women’s professional soccer.

Yes, Abby Wambach never managed it in four years here. Heck, Wambach and Mia Hamm combined never managed it. But this bunch of no-names – certainly with no one of the marquee value of the aforementioned – did the job.

However, though this Friday’s home playoff match is a first for the Spirit, it’s not a first for Washington (or the Soccerplex). Back in 2009, the Freedom finished third in Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) on the strength of a 4-1-1 finish to the season, which included a barnburner, 4-4 match against Sky Blue at Yurcak Field that the Freedom tied up in the final minutes off a goal from Cat Whitehill. (I got held up at halftime behind the stands chatting with someone at that match and got back late only to find that I’d missed not one but two goals.) It’s a team with a few players familiar to Spirit fans: Joanna Lohman, Lori Lindsey, and Ali Krieger were all on the roster.
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The WUSA Washington Freedom 15 Years On: Where are they now?

The 2003 championship team poses with the Founders Cup.

The 2003 championship team poses with the Founders Cup.

Fifteen years ago today the Washington Freedom hosted the first-ever women’s professional soccer match, taking on the Bay Area CyberRays at RFK Stadium. After my series earlier this year on the history of the Washington Freedom, I was asked if I could do a piece about where the players are now. Well, here you go – this seemed like an appropriate time to post. Thanks to Casey Zimny for some of this information.
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A History of the Washington Freedom. Part Nine: 2008.

Another year in the W-League

Ella Masar and Christen Karniski join the Freedom in 2008

Ella Masar and Christen Karniski join the Freedom in 2008

As does Becky Sauerbrunn, though Lori Lindsey has been with the team since 2003

As does Becky Sauerbrunn, though Lori Lindsey has been with the team since 2003

When the Freedom joined the W-League in 2007, it was new and exciting. The second year, though, was more as if it was just something to do while waiting for the professional league to finally get going again.

Most of the same players returned: Christie Welsh, Rebecca Moros, Emily Janss, Lori Lindsey, Kele Golebiowski, Ali Andrzejewski, Sarah Huffman, Anabel Jimenez, Tiffany McCarty, Madison Keller, and Kati Jo Spisak (and I’ve probably still left some names out). [Anabel Jimenez is now Anabel Hering and the head coach of the American University women’s soccer team.] However, Ali Krieger was signed by FC Frankfurt and went to play in Germany, while Katie Watson, Tara Kidwell, and Kelly Hammond crossed the river to play for the Northern Virginia Majestics. Casey Zimny, though initially on the roster, never plays, leaving Lori Lindsey as the last player left from the WUSA Freedom. The only early new signing of significance was that of Becky Sauerbrunn, standout defender for the University of Virginia and in the national team pool. [And shortly after I publish this, she gets her 100th cap with the USWNT.]
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A History of the Washington Freedom. Part Eight: 2007

Games that count

Christie Welsh is the marquee recruit to the Freedom in 2007

Christie Welsh is the marquee recruit to the Freedom in 2007

In early December 2006, the Washington Freedom Soccer Club announced that they would be fielding a full W-League team in 2007. Now, there are W-League teams mostly playing for the fun of it, collecting local college players into a team that plays for the summer. Then there are elite W-League teams who recruit from all over the country and sometimes the world, hire a topnotch coach, and, as a result, compete for the League championship. It was clear from the outset that the Freedom, with their past record, would be one of the latter.

The usual announcements came about player signings, with familiar faces returning: Casey Zimny, Lori Lindsey, Nicci Wright, Kelly Hammond, Tara Kidwell, and others. A surprise came in March, though, when the Freedom announced that they’d signed Christie Welsh, who’d helped the New Jersey Wildcats to a championship two years earlier and had been a goal-scoring force on the national team even more recently. Another new name announced shortly thereafter was that of Kati Jo Spisak, now the developmental goalkeeper on the WPS team. [And in 2016 a Spirit assistant coach and the head coach of the reserve team.] Less heralded new names on this year’s team included Rebecca Moros, Alex Singer (both on the WPS roster), and Sarah Senty (drafted by the WPS Freedom but decided to finish her education before joining the team). [Rebecca now plays for FC Kansas City. Alex was on the Spirit roster in 2014 and 2015.]
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A History of the Washington Freedom. Part Seven: 2005-06

Bigger organization, better players.

The Freedom’s much-improved back line: Tiffany Roberts, Casey Zimny, Carrie Moore, and Kylie Bivens.

The Freedom’s much-improved back line: Tiffany Roberts, Casey Zimny, Carrie Moore, and Kylie Bivens.

In early January, I received an email from the Washington Freedom announcing their membership program, which included both season tickets and a week of soccer camp. The Washington Freedom Soccer Club was intended to be a European-style, all-inclusive organization that would guide female athletes through their program from an early age through to an elite level. We were also told that by joining we would be “directly contributing to and actively participating in the return of women’s professional soccer.”

I signed up immediately, of course, though I gave back my week of soccer camp for them to provide to some needy young lady as they didn’t have any soccer camps intended for my demographic.

The Freedom began their 2005 season by traveling to Madrid in late April to play the Spanish national team in a charity match. Washington won, 1-0 on a goal by Jacqui Little.

In May they announced a nine-game home schedule against WPSL and W-League teams in the region, adding five away games a month later.

Their home opener was on July 6 against the WPSL Maryland Pride. What made my jaw drop was how thoroughly the lineup had been upgraded in the offseason. Added to Freedom stalwarts Jacqui Little, Lori Lindsey, Casey Zimny, and Carrie Moore – now wearing the captain’s armband – were national teamers Tiffany Roberts and Kylie Bivens, U-21 national teamers Ali Krieger and Joanna Lohman (both once again on the WPS Freedom’s roster), and former WUSA players Emily Janss (with us to this day) and Betsy Barr (Emmy’s sister, though – unusually for the WUSA – not a twin). The only odd one out was goalkeeper Nikki Resnick from the University of Maryland, and she was only playing because Nicci Wright, who was still on the roster, was recovering from an injury. We were only a Wombat, a Hammster, and maybe a German or two short of a WUSA-caliber team!
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A History of the Washington Freedom. Part Six: 2004.

Barnstorming and exhibitions

Mia Hamm in San Diego Spirit colors!?

Mia Hamm in San Diego Spirit colors!?

There was a strange, depressing feel to women’s soccer at the end of 2003. The national team had finished a disappointing third in the Women’s World Cup, and the WUSA had suspended operations. Hardly anyone knew just what that meant, and if anyone did know, they weren’t telling. Most of us figured that there would be a year or two break while the league reorganized and got its finances in order. I’m kind of glad now that we didn’t know that it would be over five years before women’s professional soccer would start up again, and that it would be a completely different organization that did so.

The WUSA even had a few activities, most notably the WUSA Festivals, which each featured two matches between two WUSA teams, one at the Nationals Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota, and the other at the then-new Home Depot Center in Carson, California.
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A History of the Washington Freedom. Part Five: 2003.

Maintaining the standard.

Three of our 2003 acquisitions: #2 goalkeeper Nicci Wright, midfielder Kelly Golebiowski, and reserve goalkeeper Erin Regan

Three of our 2003 acquisitions: #2 goalkeeper Nicci Wright, midfielder Kelly Golebiowski, and reserve goalkeeper Erin Regan

Not surprisingly, offseason changes to the Freedom roster are limited and mostly involuntary. Chinese national team captain Pu Wei stays home to help prepare her team for the upcoming Women’s World Cup. Bai Jie is slow to arrive for reasons that are unclear at first but it eventually turns out that the Chinese government refuses to let her come to the US as a protest against the invasion of Iraq. On the other hand, former Chinese national team goalkeeper Gao Hong joins the Freedom from the New York Power, replacing Erin Fahey, who’s been cut. (She’s already over here, so the Chinese government can’t do much about it.) Though the ramifications for the Freedom in the long run are very positive (as shall be seen), the decision is baffling: Erin was a terrific #2, so there seemed little point in taking a gamble on Gao, who at one time was one of the best goalkeepers in the world but who is coming off a miserable, injury-ridden season with the Power. Still, perhaps she has enough left to be a solid backup to Siri.

Lori Lindsey joins the team and becomes a mainstay for years to come

Lori Lindsey joins the team and becomes a mainstay for years to come


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A History of the Washington Freedom. Part Four: 2002 Late.

Finishing strong

The league-leading Philadelphia Charge, who have only been beaten once so far this season, come visiting on July 14. They’ve shrugged off the loss of their superb midfielder, Kelly Smith, as French speedster Marinette Pichon has taken the team on her shoulders. In June, Pichon scored six goals in five games, adding to her total of twelve for the season, and is coming off a hat trick in Philly’s previous match. So guess what Carrie Moore’s job is for this game? That’s right, man-mark Marinette for 90 minutes and try to keep her from scoring.

 Marinette Pichon gets one of her few touches on the ball in the July 14 match.


Marinette Pichon gets one of her few touches on the ball in the July 14 match.

Meanwhile, Mia Hamm makes her first start of the season. She has an opportunity to give the Freedom the lead early, as Bai Jie is taken down in the penalty box in the 11th minute. But she misses the resulting kick. It’s not until the 75th minute that anyone scores, and it’s the Freedom, courtesy of Abby Wambach, who gets the ball from Steffi Jones on a corner kick from Mia Hamm and puts it away. Unfortunately, Casey Zimny – three minutes after coming into the game – commits an unnecessary foul on the Charge’s Zhao Lihong just outside the box, and Zhao puts the ensuing free kick in the net to tie the score. As for the the dangerous French forward, Carrie limits Marinette to one shot on goal the entire game, garnering effusive praise from all quarters, even the Charge’s head coach. She ends up third in the voting for WUSA Player of the Week, an award that invariably goes to the player who scored the most goals unless there’s a sensational goalkeeping performance that week – giving a defender any consideration is unheard of.
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A History of the Washington Freedom. Part Three: 2002 Midseason.

Turning the corner

Siri Mullinix, goalkeeper extraordinaire

Siri Mullinix, goalkeeper extraordinaire

The magic begins on June 1, with Washington playing Boston in the spacious confines of CMGI Field (now Gillette Stadium). With top-level internationals Dagny Mellgren and Maren Meinert supported by midfielder Kristine Lilly, the Breakers are among the most dangerous offensive teams in the league. Unfortunately, the Freedom field players don’t rise to the occasion, repeatedly letting Boston get dangerous, unchallenged shots on goal. But goalkeeper Siri Mullinix is up to the challenge, putting on a stunning performance, parrying shot after shot, including some one-on-ones, making 13 saves in all, a WUSA record. She preserves a 0-0 tie in a game the Freedom otherwise had no business being competitive in.
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A History of the Washington Freedom. Part Two: 2002 Early.

Changes and a new arrival

The Wombat arrives!

The Wombat arrives!

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.
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