Freedom Gears Up For Return, New League

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The previous attempt to sustain a league collapsed five years ago, just three weeks after the Washington Freedom won the final Women's United Soccer Association title. Now that a new project is in place and the team is returning with the same nickname, ownership and coach, "I can still say they are defending champions, right?" defender Cat Whitehill joked.

The Freedom reintroduced itself yesterday by outlining plans to assemble a roster and help Women's Professional Soccer, a seven-team circuit kicking off next spring, become a financially viable league.

Following the allocation of U.S. national team veteran Whitehill, star striker Abby Wambach and Dumfries native Ali Krieger (Forest Park) last week, the Freedom will stake claim to four high-profile foreign players today.

The draft will only provide teams with the rights to negotiate contracts and not necessarily guarantee players' arrivals. Brazilian forward Marta, the world's best player, might be out of the price range for most WPS teams. Her teammate, Cristiane, is also highly coveted. Washington will draft fourth in each round.

Jim Gabarra, who has coached the Freedom's club team since the WUSA's demise, must also attempt to acquire Krieger on loan from a German club and hope Whitehill (knee surgery) and Wambach (broken leg) fully recover from injuries that forced them to miss the Olympics.

"My concern is not the beginning of the season and what team we put on the field," he said. "Obviously, that's important, but I am looking at the bigger and broader picture of what kind of team we are putting together -- the players that are going to give us three, four, five seasons."

The roster-building process will continue Oct. 6 with a draft that will make additional U.S. and foreign players available.

Scouting combines and a college draft will be held this winter and training camps are to open March 1. The season will begin in April and include 20 games per team.

The Freedom will be based at Maryland SoccerPlex in Montgomery County -- there are tentative plans to expand seating capacity to 6,000 from 3,200 -- and might end up playing three doubleheaders with D.C. United at RFK Stadium.

The Freedom has turned to United to assist with marketing and ticketing efforts, part of a formal alliance between the leagues after the WUSA largely rejected MLS's help.

"Sustainability has been the focus all along," said team president Joseph Quinn, who will run the franchise for Discovery Communications founder John Hendricks and wife Maureen Hendricks. "It's a long-range plan, and I think we have the focus in the [league's] ownership group to stick with the plan."

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