Freedom 8, Nottingham Forest 0

In a way, things hadn't changed much for the Washington Freedom players who took part in their team's exhibition game against Nottingham Forest of England at RFK Stadium last night.

The team arrived 90 minutes before the game, just as Coach Jim Gabarra used to stipulate for WUSA games. The Freedom won handsomely -- by a score of 8-0. The players signed autographs and took pictures with fans for at least 15 minutes after the game.

It is today that things will feel different. Because the WUSA ceased operations last fall after three years, the players no longer will attend a practice or get ready for a league game.

Yesterday's exhibition was one of five the Freedom will play this summer, a far cry from its run to the WUSA title last year. It also was the only one at RFK Stadium, the team's former home.

Eight of the starters last night played on the Freedom last year.

"It was exciting, it was great but it also was a little bit sad," said Jen Grubb, one of the Freedom's players last year. "It was fun to play but it's too bad we're not going to be playing again next weekend."

The game itself was not as testing as some the Freedom had played at RFK. The Freedom led 5-0 at halftime. Nottingham Forest entered its attacking half of the field only twice in the first half.

And that was why Freedom midfielder Lindsay Stoecker was thinking about a meeting she has this morning at her consulting job while sitting in the locker room at halftime.

"I was getting prepared, I was thinking that I had to bring this and that," Stoecker said. "I had to stop myself. I figured it was wrong to think about that stuff now."

The Nottingham Forest women's team is composed mostly of amateur players and plays two levels below the Premier League. They finished 13-2-3 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup last year.

The team had prepared for the muggy weather in Washington by practicing in sweatshirts before leaving England. They were less prepared for the team that met them here.

"I can't remember seeing a missed pass from them all game," said Forest midfielder and assistant coach Lisa Dawkins. "They were a coach's dream."

The coach of the Freedom has the same dream as his players: that the league start up again soon. Gabarra said he has spoken with John Hendricks, the founder of the WUSA.

"It's unrealistic to think that we'll have a league like we had in 2003 next year," Gabarra said. "But hopefully we will have something considerably more" than the three summer festivals and sporadic exhibitions this summer.

Ali Krieger, an All-Met at Forest Park and a rising sophomore at Penn State, had three goals for the Freedom yesterday. The game was played before about 2,000 fans.

Afterward, there was one more reminder of the team's existence: Their championship banner was unveiled at halftime of D.C. United's exhibition against Nottingham Forest.

"It was good to be back," Gabarra said. "It was good to see Lindsay Stoecker back on the field. It was good to see the team back together again."

Freedom rekindles winning feeling. "It was great but . . . a little bit sad," said Jen Grubb (5).