Washington Freedom Ties St. Louis Athletica, 3-3

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 4, 2009

In the space of about 30 seconds last night, the complexion of the Washington Freedom's 3-3 tie with St. Louis Athletica took a dramatic and contentious turn.

With her team trailing by two goals in the 79th minute, the Freedom's Lisa De Vanna headed in Abby Wambach's driven ball. After Washington's brief celebration, St. Louis returned to the center circle for the restart and touched the ball to Brazilian midfielder Daniela, who had scored two first-half goals, including a remarkable shot just before halftime.

Wambach challenged Daniela and crashed into her right leg, leaving the Athletica star writhing in pain and requiring medical attention for two minutes on the field. Wambach, a muscular striker known for her physical style, was assessed a yellow card. Athletica players wanted her ejected.

Daniela did not return to the match, and after being treated on a stretcher behind the team bench, briefly lost consciousness because of pain to her right knee, game organizers said. She was taken to a hospital for further examination. Without its top player, St. Louis

(0-2-2) found itself under relentless pressure by the Freedom (1-2-2) and yielded a 90th-minute goal by Sonia Bompastor, her second of the game.

"There was no excuse for it," Athletica goalkeeper Hope Solo, Wambach's longtime U.S. national teammate, said of the foul. "I know Abby means well, I know she has a good heart and she would never want to see a player go down, but in the emotions of a game, it was right after the kickoff after they scored, and she went in two-footed."

Wambach, who missed last year's Olympics after breaking her leg in a U.S. friendly against Brazil, said she did not intend to inflict injury.

"She took a long touch so I charged and slid into it, slipped a little bit," Wambach said. "She came in late, I came in late, I definitely think I deserved a yellow card, but I don't think it was malicious. I wasn't intending to try to take her out. I was going for the ball. That's not my game."

The incident marred an otherwise entertaining Women's Professional Soccer match before a season-high 5,149 spectators at rainy Maryland SoccerPlex. Daniela sandwiched goals around Bompastor's first strike before Athletica -- which had failed to score in its first three games -- expanded the lead in the 69th minute. De Vanna converted 10 minutes later, and then in the late stages, Cat Whitehill's booming free kick from her own end was headed by a St. Louis player into the penalty area, where an on-rushing Bompastor nodded it over Solo.

Bompastor, signed to play left back but inserted into midfield and forward roles this spring, returned to the lineup after being away on French national team duty last week.

"I'd like to have three of her so she could play left back, in midfield and up front," Freedom Coach Jim Gabarra said. "She is such an intelligent player and right now we need her up front. But we have to find a way to stop the flow of goals we are giving up."

Athletica went ahead in the seventh minute. Freedom goalie Kati Jo Spisak blocked Melissa Tancredi's attempt in the box, but Daniela pounced on the rebound from eight yards.

The Freedom drew even in the 29th minute when Jill Gilbeau crossed into the heart of the penalty area for the 5-foot-4 Bompastor, who nodded an eight-yarder into the lower left corner.

Daniela restored the lead, dancing with the ball before striking a 30-yard shot into the far, top side. "Three of my girls were on her, and I don't know how she turned and shot," Spisak said.

Solo repelled Washington's equalizing bids before teammate Eniola Aluko collected Kerri Hanks's pass in stride for an angled shot to the far corner. "We didn't really wake up and respond until it was 3-1," Gabarra said. "We didn't really match up in the first half."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company