In New League, Freedom Has Head Start on Chemistry

The Washington Freedom plays its debut game Sunday against the Los Angeles Sol in Carson, Calif. Video by Paul Tenorio/The Washington Post, Edited by Francine Uenuma/
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 29, 2009

Players for the seven clubs that make up Women's Professional Soccer, the second attempt in a decade to sustain a U.S. national league, have had less than a month to get acquainted. They've come from diverse backgrounds -- from semipro and foreign circuits, from college programs and national teams -- and been tossed together on short notice.

"Realistically, you need at least six weeks to get ready for a season," said Jim Gabarra, coach of the Washington Freedom, which will play in WPS's inaugural match today against the Los Angeles Sol at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

The rapid bonding period is the nature of a thrifty league wedged into a compact calendar -- not even six months from start to finish.

But while other teams have had to build off-field camaraderie and on-field cohesiveness from scratch, the Freedom has enjoyed a head start.

After the financial collapse of the Women's United Soccer Association in 2003, the Freedom remained active as a youth program and, under Gabarra's direction, fielded a second-division amateur team that won a national title two years ago.

When the new league formed, Gabarra recognized the importance of developing chemistry quickly in a short season and sought players familiar with him and one another.

Through drafts, allocations, tryouts and a trade, the Freedom acquired 12 players who previously represented the club, a figure that makes up more than half of the 22-woman roster.

Based at Maryland SoccerPlex in Montgomery County, the Freedom will play a 20-game schedule, including three doubleheaders with D.C. United at RFK Stadium, in pursuit of one of four playoff berths. The Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, St. Louis Athletica, FC Gold Pride (located in the San Francisco Bay Area) and Sky Blue FC (which will play its games in New Jersey) will debut next weekend in a league that plans to expand to 10 teams in the coming years.

For the Freedom, the start of a new season has an old feel to it.

"I am looking around at practice, thinking, 'She's been here, she's been here, she's been here.' The instincts, the bonding, it's already taken place the last few years," said midfielder Emily Janss, 30, a University of Maryland graduate who has been aligned with the Freedom for four years.

"We already have stories, we've shared laughs. It's on the field, as well. Maybe we are not a leg up on the rest of the league, but at least we are a couple steps in the right direction. The core was already here, the new players arrived, and it was like, 'Okay, here we go.' "

Janss and the other holdovers provide the support system for a team that also signed U.S. national team veterans Abby Wambach and Cat Whitehill, Japanese midfield star Homare Sawa, French defender Sonia Bompastor and Australian forward Lisa De Vanna.

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