Lost Opportunity: Up A Player, Freedom Settle for 0-0 Tie Against Chicago Red Stars
Freedom team captain Abby Wambach (20) goes down hard and Red Stars midfielder Karen Carney (14) is ejected during the Washington Freedom's 0-0 tie with the Chicago Red Stairs at Robert F Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington DC on June 13, 2009. Christopher Blunck/DC Sports Box
WASHINGTON, D.C.-No question, it was a situation that heavily favored the Washington Freedom.  Washington had controlled the ball much of the afternoon when Chicago Red Stars midfielder Karen Carney took down Freedom star Abby Wambach with a two-footed tackle from behind. 
 
Carney earned a straight red card and an early trip to the showers for her effort, and the Wambach and her teammates were given a golden opportunity of 30 minutes of 11-on-10 play in which to crack Chicago goalkeeper Caroline Jönsson and take the lead.

For the Freedom, that golden opportunity became a squandered one as they were unable to find the back of the net and settled for a 0-0 draw against Chicago in front of 5,049 fans on a sunny, humid afternoon at RFK Stadium.

Washington’s inability to score was a major damper on an otherwise outstanding team effort.  Entering the game as the WPS leader in goals allowed (18), the Freedom maintained a blank slate for the first time this season.  Credit goes to newly-acquired Ali Krieger, a veteran of the U.S. national team who joined the team on Monday on a transfer from Frankfurt, Germany.

Krieger claimed her major contribution to the team was “some excitement…some spark,” but there is no question she also brought confident play and “a sense of European style,” as she called it, moving the ball forward and generating offense through quick touches and passing sequences.

Freedom midfielder Allie Long also praised Krieger’s toughness, which was certainly required in a hard-fought match.  In addition to Carney’s red card four yellow cards were awarded, two to Chicago’s Brittany Klein and Megan Rapinoe toward the end of the first half and two to Washington’s Wambach and Sonia Bompastor within three minutes at the end of the second frame.

Wambach in particular was disappointed with the pace and physicality of the game, which saw Chicago commit a total of 13 fouls and Washington 8.  “It’s a bit frustrating because it slows the tempo of the game down,” said Wambach.

She continued to criticize the way WPS teams seem to single her out, saying, “I’m sure that I’m the most fouled player in the league…it’s a choice, it’s the way teams choose to play against me and it’s going to keep happening, I suppose.”  

While Wambach’s numbers are a bit off—with an average of 2.75 fouls suffered per game she is third in WPS, behind Boston’s Kelly Smith (3.43) and Saint Louis’ Lori Chalupny (3.14)—there’s no question that Chicago targeted her, committing five fouls including Carney’s tackle that Wambach called a two-footed scissor kick.

The focus is understandable, as Wambach does lead the league by far in shots taken and shots on goal.  All the attention she received freed up the other Freedom players to attack, and they did with abandon.  Washington finished with 24 shots, eight of which were on net.  Long led the way with seven (two on net), strikers Lisa De Vanna and Rebecca Moros had four and three respectively, and even midfielder Lori Lindsey, a gametime decision due to injury, put three on Chicago’s net.

However, while the Freedom were able to pepper Jönsson’s net their chances were low-quality, several times hitting the Red Stars keeper right in the chest.  After the game Chicago head coach Emma Hayes said Jönsson told her that she was never challenged by Washington’s attack.

Hayes also wryly noted that her team is “the draw specialist in this league,” a statement supported by Chicago’s third tie in a row, and fifth on the season out of ten games.  With the tie, the Red Stars held serve in what has been an extremely tight season, standings-wise.

The front-running Los Angeles Sol sit atop the league with 25 points, and the remaining six teams are all within four points of each other, with Washington in 2nd with 13 points, Sky Blue FC in 7th with 9 points, and the remaining four teams all sitting at 11 points.

The Freedom’s inability to begin to break away from the pack, then, gave the tie a distinct feeling of a loss Saturday afternoon.  While Hayes and her team walked off the pitch with smiles on their faces after stealing a point on the road in a difficult man-down situation, all Washington saw were two points slipping away.

“We’re going to take this point and learn from it,” said Wambach after the game.  A disappointing lesson, for certain, but the type her young team needs if it hopes to improve its spot in the standings rather than merely hold serve against the hungry teams below.

NOTES:
-Bompastor took the field at the left back position instead of her usual midfield spot.  Asked about the change, Hayes, who had encountered Bompastor previously as coach of the Arsenal womens team while the French native played at Lyons, was not surprised at all.  “I actually think its her best position,” Hayes said.