Freedom vs. Sky Blue
Outlook: During a rough patch early in the season when Washington conceded too many goals and wasn't getting production from star forward Abby Wambach, Freedom Coach Jim Gabarra spoke calmly about the overall outlook.
Washington had several players recovering from major injuries and surgeries. The club was expecting the arrival of two international-level contributors later in the season -- both penciled in as starters. And the hope was that the team would start rounding into form in time to secure a playoff spot and do damage in the four-team postseason.
Gabarra's predicted trajectory has played out almost exactly as he had hoped.
The addition of goalkeeper Erin McLeod in May helped solve some of the defensive woes, as did the acquisition of Ali Krieger (Forest Park High School), who joined the Freedom midseason from FFC Frankfurt in Germany.
Most important, however, Wambach has come into form since scoring her 100th career goal for the U.S. national team in July and passing the one-year mark in her recovery from a broken leg suffered in a friendly against Brazil.
She has five goals and an assist in four games since July 26, and with its star striker leading the way, the Freedom lost just once in its final six games to secure the No. 3 seed.
"Some other teams in the league are plateauing and feeling a little tired about the season," Wambach said. "We on the other hand have been playing really well."
The Freedom doesn't face an easy road if it hopes to navigate its way to the inaugural title. First it must beat Sky Blue for a second consecutive weekend after downing the New Jersey club, 3-1, to earn the home game. Washington has scored nine goals in three games against Sky Blue, which has conceded just 11 goals to the rest of the league.
A victory would move Washington into the semifinals at No. 2 Saint Louis Athletica on Wednesday. The championship game is three days later at the top-seeded Los Angeles Sol.
"I think these games are going to be dogfights," Wambach said. "Do I think that our team is playing well enough? Yeah, I think that we definitely have a really great chance of advancing and making it to the championship game. But it's not going to be easy."
-- Paul Tenorio