Wambach Vaults Freedom to Critical Victory Over Breakers

Abby Wambach and the Freedom moved past Boston into third place in WPS with two games remaining.
Abby Wambach and the Freedom moved past Boston into third place in WPS with two games remaining. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 30, 2009

Washington Freedom forward Abby Wambach had no idea the club was planning to honor her at halftime of Wednesday night's game against the Boston Breakers for recently scoring her 100th career international goal. The star forward was less than thrilled about having to stop and receive an engraved silver plate recognizing the milestone at intermission.

"I actually wasn't very happy that it was happening because I was upset about not having scored in the first half," Wambach said.

But if it was only unofficially Abby Wambach Night -- the number 100 was even mowed into the field across the midfield stripe -- the Freedom's marquee player made it official by burying the game-winner in the 73rd minute, lifting the Freedom to a 1-0 win in front of 3,123 at Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds and saving Washington from a monumental missed opportunity.

The Freedom (7-6-5, 26 points) played with a one-player advantage for nearly the entire match after referee Jose Carlos Rivero was quick to present a red card to Boston's Alex Scott in the fifth minute after a harsh tackle on Freedom midfielder Sonia Bompastor. Even with the advantage, Washington struggled to muster an attack against a packed-in Boston defense.

But with less than 20 minutes remaining, Wambach stepped up on a quick combination with forward Lisa De Vanna on the left side of the box and delivered a shot to the far post for her third goal in two games, helping the Freedom leapfrog Boston into third place in a tight playoff race bound to be sorted in the final week of the regular season.

"Obviously the three points is what we were after today and I'm just thrilled the team got those points, much needed," Wambach said. "To go up a man so early in the game, it's one of those things that's so expected you're going to score goals but the other team defends the whole time and it's almost even harder than it would have been if we were even-manned. But I'm proud to, of course, help my team get the three points."

The game changed almost immediately on the heels of Rivero's decision in the fifth minute.

Scott drove hard with her cleats into a tackle on Bompastor near the midfield stripe -- a foul certainly worthy of a yellow card. Instead, Rivero opted to show a red card and the Breakers (7-7-4, 25 points) suddenly were faced with the task of playing a man down for 85 minutes.

After the game, Boston Coach Tony DiCicco did not mince words regarding the early ejection.

"He's over his head. Most of the referees in this league have been over their heads," DiCicco said. "And they can look the part and play the part but that is just a very, very difficult call in that stage in the game. . . . Not only did he change this game, we have to play two days from now in St. Louis, and he's reshaped the whole playoff picture. I just feel for my team because they played their hearts out. And they deserved better, they deserved a better center official."

But despite gaining a man advantage so early into the match, Washington struggled to capitalize.

Tempted by the prospect of being up a player, Washington often attacked too directly instead of wearing Boston down with possession play. Few chances came as a result, with the best a quick connection between Homare Sawa and Wambach in the 41st minute that ended when Sawa's dive was not rewarded with a penalty kick.

"We were way too frantic," Freedom Coach Jim Gabarra said. "And we weren't using the width and we weren't possessing at all."

But with an opportunity to help its own playoff fate seemingly slipping away, Wambach saved her team and brought Washington one step closer to a postseason berth.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company