WUSA WEEK 17 WRAP: Wambach pulls Freedom from funk

By SCOTT FRENCH
Senior Editor

DEAR ABBY: Washington is out of its two-month funk and appears to be cruising toward the WUSA playoffs. Much credit goes to forward Abby Wambach, who has scored six goals in the past six games, including a late strike to forge a 2-2 draw Wednesday at Boston and another late in the first half to start the Freedom on a 2-0 triumph Saturday over visiting San Diego.

Both Wambach goals came courtesy of Mia Hamm. She bent an 85th-minute free kick into the 6-yard box for Wambach to head home spectacularly on Wednesday, and she intercepted Spirit goalkeeper Jaime Pagliarulo's free kick to set up Wambach's 40th-minute goal on Saturday. Hamm added a stoppage-time goal against San Diego.

The Freedom are tied for second with Boston, three points above the playoff cutoff, but the Breakers won the season series, the first tiebreaker in determining standings position.

Hamm, with two weeks remaining in the regular season, is the WUSA's leading scorer with 27 points (she's No. 1 in assists, with 11). Wambach is No. 2 with 26 points, and she shares the goalscoring lead with Boston's Dagny Mellgren with 11 goals.

ALL TIED UP: The Breakers are gobbling up points one at a time, and draws Wednesday against Washington and Sunday in San Jose gave them five ties in their past six games. Their unbeaten streak is seven matches, and they've lost only once in their past 10.

MVP candidate Maren Meinert continues to be the prod. She set up Dagny Mellgren's 11th goal -- Meinert's WUSA-best 30th career assist -- and created the penalty kick Kristine Lilly converted for her first goal this season in the 2-2 tie with Washington, then netted her ninth goal to overcame San Jose's advantage in a 1-1 draw.

Meinert has assisted 20 of Mellgren's WUSA-record 34 career goals.

FINISHED: Philadelphia is starting to get healthy, but it's too late. Heather Mitts returned from a broken leg to the back line on Saturday, and Kelly Smith (meniscus tear) and Pavlina Scasna (plantar fasciatis) saw time in the second half, but the Charge couldn't make much of a 22-9 shot advantage and fell to Carolina, 3-1.

The loss eliminated the Charge from playoff contention. One more -- or one San Jose victory -- and Philly gets first dibs on Catherine Reddick in next year's draft.

Philadelphia, demolished all season by injuries, has lost five in a row and gone without a win the past eight games.

DEFENDING A TITLE: Carolina appears a likely bet to join Atlanta, Boston and Washington in the playoffs. The Courage is one point behind San Diego and New York, but it has four games remaining -- the Spirit and Power each play two more -- including home games against seventh-place San Jose and last-place Philly. Critical will be Sunday's match in San Diego.

Venus James netted a pair in Carolina's win Saturday over the Charge, its third win in four games and six in its past 11.

STAYING ALIVE: A pair of 1-1 ties, at San Diego on Wednesday and at home against first-place Atlanta on Saturday, kept New York's postseason hopes alive.

Tiffany Milbrett scored her first career goal against San Diego, a fourth-minute finish after Anita Rapp knocked down a Kim Pickup clearance, and has scored against all seven WUSA foes. Shannon Boxx's first tally of the year answered Charmaine Hooper's eighth goal of the season against Atlanta.

Milbrett's goal, her fifth of the campaign, was the eighth San Diego has surrendered during the first 10 minutes of action this season.

ONE MORE ACL: San Diego lost another forward to an anterior cruciate ligament tear on Wednesday. Allie Sullivan tore her left ACL while leaping over a Boxx tackle in the 85th minute. She joins Shannon MacMillan, who tore her right ACL in May, on the Spirit bench.

Kristy Whelchel, who tore an ACL during a pickup game last fall, was making her second appearance of the season in the match. She made her first start three days later against Atlanta.

Carolina's Hege Riise and Danielle Fotopoulos and Philadelphia's Deliah Arrington also tore ACLs during WUSA action this season. Pretinha tore hers earlier this month while playing for Brazil. New York's Sara Whalen missed the season after complications following her ACL surgery last August.

WHAT'S LEFT: Here's the remaining schedule for the eight teams:

Atlanta (9-3-6, 33 points) -- Aug. 2 at Philadelphia, Aug. 6 at San Jose, Aug. 10 vs. New York.

Boston (7-4-7, 28 points) -- Aug. 1 at New York, Aug. 6 vs. Carolina, Aug. 10 at San Jose.

Washington (8-6-4, 28 points) -- Aug. 2 vs. San Jose, Aug. 6 at Philadelphia, Aug. 9 at San Diego.

San Diego (6-6-7, 25 points) -- Aug. 3 vs. Carolina, Aug. 9 vs. Washington.

New York (7-8-4, 25 points) -- Aug. 1 vs. Boston, Aug. 10 at New York.

Carolina (7-7-3, 24 points) --- July 30 vs. San Jose, Aug. 3 at San Diego, Aug. 6 at Boston, Aug. 9 vs. Philadelphia.

San Jose (6-8-3, 21 points) -- July 30 at Carolina, Aug. 2 at Washington, Aug. 6 vs. Atlanta, Aug. 10 vs. Boston.

Philadelphia (3-11-4, 13 points) -- Aug. 2 vs. Philadelphia, Aug. 6 vs. Washington, Aug. 9 at Carolina.

WUSA SUMMARIES WEEK 17: Courage, Freedom post wins

July 23 at Boston
BOSTON (7-4-6, 27 points) 2 WASHINGTON (7-6-4, 25 points) 2.
Goals:
Mellgren (Meinert, Monroe) 40, Lilly pen. 58; Grubb 52, Wambach (Hamm) 85.
Att.: 9,070.

July 23 at San Diego
SAN DIEGO (6-5-7, 25 points)1 NEW YORK (7-8-3, 24 points) 1.
Goals:
Fleeting 58; Milbrett (Rapp) 4.
Att.: 5,793.

July 26 at Uniondale, N.Y.
NEW YORK (7-8-4, 25 points) 1 ATLANTA (9-3-6, 33 points) 1.
Goals:
Boxx (Tietjen) 61; Hooper (Parlow) 51.
Att.: 5,426.

July 26 at Philadelphia
PHILADELPHIA (3-11-4, 13 points) 1 CAROLINA (7-7-3, 24 points) 3.
Goals:
E. Burt (Fair) 17; Prinz (Overbeck, Roberts) 28, James (Roberts) 62, James (Lehn) 83.
Att.: 8,093.

July 26 at Washington
WASHINGTON (8-6-4, 28 points) 2 SAN DIEGO (6-6-7, 25 points) 0.
Goals:
Wambach (Hamm) 40, Hamm 93+.
Att.: 7,993.

July 27 at San Jose
SAN JOSE (6-8-3, 21 points) 1 BOSTON (7-4-7, 28 points) 1.
Goals:
Venturini-Hoch (Sanchez) 48; Meinert 64.
Att.: 6,187.

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