Back Yard Is Where the Heart Is

washington freedom - women's soccer
The Freedom now plays in the W-League, a collection of semi-professional teams similarly hopeful that the WUSA will follow through with plans to re-launch the defunct league in 2008. (Ricky Carioti - The Post)
By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The soccer field sits behind Christopher Arndt's two-story house in Boyds, just beyond the mimosa trees and the wooden fort. Arndt marks the boundaries of the 90- by 60-yard pitch by mowing the grass a little lower than the rest of his back yard.

A few times a week, this field hosts practices for the Washington Freedom. Yes, that Washington Freedom; the team that once featured star striker Mia Hamm and played in the Women's United Soccer Association until the league folded four years ago.

Word is the league is coming back next year, but the players and coaches have heard that before. This mixture of college players, recent graduates and former WUSA players assembles in Arndt's back yard not for the promise of what could come, but for the chance to enjoy what they have.

They filed in, one by one, on a recent Saturday morning, parking their cars in the taller grass to the east of the field, over where the dandelions still crop up. Together they constructed two goals, planting the posts before attaching the nets. A few played fetch with Bear, a black Rottweiler that belongs to one of the players, before it was time to stretch.

"How many people can say they practice in a back yard?" said midfielder Kelly Hammond, the All-Met Player of the Year at St. Mary's-Annapolis in 2001 who played for Virginia. "It's beautiful here; perfect, really."

The Freedom now plays in the W-League, a collection of semi-professional teams similarly hopeful that the WUSA will follow through with its relaunch in 2008. Arndt's daughters play in a Freedom-affiliated summer league, and when he heard the team was looking for a place to train, he offered his yard.

Gone from the roster are nationally recognizable names, such as Hamm and Abby Wambach. In their place are those clinging to the game they cannot bring themselves to quit, no matter how unusual the circumstances have become.

"To tell the truth, we don't hear much" about a relaunch, midfielder Emily Janss said. "But we hear it's looking good."

The players and coaches are not paid. The team has no advertising budget and communication from the group planning to revive the league is nearly nonexistent. But the Freedom is 7-1-1 this season, and when someone asks the players why they keep playing, the answer becomes clear.

"For the love of the game," midfielder Lori Lindsey said. Or maybe it was Jill Porto who said it. Or Rebecca Moros. Or Sarah Senty. It could have been any of them. Their answers were the same.

But beyond the cliche lies a deeper truth, which helps explain how the Freedom ended up in the back of the Arndt family's yard.

"It's a way to let go of everything," said goalkeeper K.J. Spisak, 23. "It's like recess with all your close friends. It's liberating; it's freeing."

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