STRETCH DRIVE: Nobody's backing down in the battle for the final two playoff spots -- with two weeks to go, we're conceding semifinal berths to Philadelphia and Carolina -- as Washington, Atlanta and San Jose scored home victories on Saturday.
The Freedom picked up just four of six available points with a 1-1 tie Wednesday against Boston and a 1-0 triumph Sunday over San Diego, giving it 29 points with games remaining at Carolina, at home against Atlanta and at New York. Rookie Abby Wambach scored both goals, her eighth and ninth of the season, and Siri Mullinix padded her goalkeeper-of-the-year credentials with 12 stops (seven of them spectacular) against Boston and five against San Diego.
The Beat toppled visiting Carolina, 1-0, on newlywed Charmaine Hooper's 68th-minute goal, her ninth of the season, and Briana Scurry's league-leading fifth shutout. Atlanta's got 28 points (but has played one fewer game than has Washington) and finishes up with games at San Diego, at Washington and at home against San Diego and Philadelphia.
Katia grabbed the lead in the WUSA scoring race with her 13th and 14th goals of the season and an assist as the CyberRays beat New York, 4-1, despite a superb performance by Power goalkeeper Saskia Webber (who tied Siri Mullinix's WUSA record with 13 stops). San Jose turned a tight game into a romp with goals 56 seconds apart, by Katia and Pretinha, in the 82nd minute. The 'Rays have 25 points and follow Wednesday's home game against Philly with road games at Carolina, Philadelphia and Boston.
BEST GOAL: Hooper's strike against Carolina and Katia's second goal vs. New York were fine goals, but we're going with Wambach's 67th-minute winner Sunday against San Diego.
It concluded a five-pass sequence that started when Jacqui Little picked off a Kim Pickup throw-in and Pu Wei settled the ball with a pass back to Steffi Jones in Freedom territory.
Jones played the ball ahead to Ann Cook, who took off on a 15-yard run past three opponents, then dished the ball to Mia Hamm on the right outside San Diego's box. Hamm quickly played an unexpected ball to Wambach, alone at the top of the box -- Pickup let her slip away while standing up to Hamm -- and the rookie's 13-yard blast was still rising as it hit the goal's upper-right corner.
FIRST GOALS: Three players found the net for the first time, including San Jose midfielder Lisa Nanez, who knocked home a rebound to start the CyberRays' victory over New York.
Boston's Alexa Borisjuk and Allie Kemp netted the others, scoring the decisive goals in 1-1 ties at Washington and against Philadelphia.
Borisjuk beat Mullinix to the far post after Kristine Lilly threaded a 30-yard pass to her Wednesday. Kemp, who came on against the Charge immediately after Liu Ailing's 84th-minute strike gave Philly the lead, tallied in the 90th minute.
Norwegian forward Ragnhild Gulbrandsen picked up her first point with an assist on Kemp's goal. Lilly also assisted, extending her points streak to eight games, one shy of the record set through June and most of July by Carolina's Birgit Prinz and Danielle Fotopoulos.
The ties weren't enough for Boston, which was eliminated from the playoff chase on Saturday.
STUMBLING LEADERS: Not a very good week for Philadelphia nor Carolina.
The Charge, which with two wins would have wrapped up home field for the semifinals, managed just a point. It surrendered three goals in five minutes to let a two-goal advantage disappear in a 3-2 loss Wednesday to New York -- with Tiffeny Milbrett netting the 87th-minute winner -- then gave up Kemp's 90th-minute equalizer in the tie with Boston on Saturday.
Philly had to do without French forward Marinette Pichon against Boston -- she injured the big toe on her left foot against the Power.
Carolina sustained its second successive shutout loss, losing midfielder Tiffany Roberts to a red card at the end of a gritty, sometimes testy affair in Atlanta. Roberts was ejected for ''abusive language'' after complaining about a stoppage-time yellow card to teammate Nel Fettig, who had taken down Beat forward Emily Burt.
The leaders' failures enabled Washington and Atlanta to close the gap, bringing a little intrigue to the fight for home field in the playoffs. The Charge and Courage have tough games remaining -- Philly plays San Jose twice and Atlanta, Carolina gets Washington and San Jose -- and an inability to get points could mean road assignments on Aug. 17.
WUSA SUMMARIES WEEK 16: Ties can't save Breakers
July 24 at Villanova, Pa.
PHILADELPHIA (10-2-4, 34 pts.) 2 NEW YORK (3-13-1, 10 pts.) 3.
Goals: Clemens (L. Fair) 61, Liu (Zhao) 79; Milbrett 83, Janss (Baumgardt-Yamada) 84, Milbrett (Mustonen) 87.
July 24 at Washington
WASHINGTON (7-5-5, 26 pts.) 1 BOSTON (4-8-6, 18 pts.) 1.
Goals: Wambach (Pu) 25; Borisjuk (Lilly) 56.
July 27 at Washington
WASHINGTON (8-5-5, 29 pts.) 1 SAN DIEGO (4-9-4, 16 pts.) 0.
Goal: Wambach (Hamm, Cook) 67.
July 27 at San Jose
SAN JOSE (7-6-4, 25 pts.) 4 NEW YORK (3-14-1, 10 pts.) 1.
Goals: Nanez 5, Katia (Bell) 34, Katia (Wagner) 82, Pretinha (Katia) 82; Janss 66.
July 27 at Boston
BOSTON (4-8-7, 19 pts.) 1 PHILADELPHIA (10-2-5, 35 pts.) 1.
Goals: Kemp (Gulbrandsen, Lilly) 90; Liu 84.
July 27 at Atlanta
ATLANTA (9-7-1, 28 pts.) 1 CAROLINA (10-4-3, 33 pts.) 0.
Goals: Hooper (E. Burt, Krzykowski) 68.
Red card: Carolina: T. Roberts 92+.