The Freedom of the Majestic WPS FCs

Here’s a quick attempt to summarize what is known about women’s soccer teams in the Washington area as of 5:30 p.m. ET, March 24, 2011:

– The Northern Virginia Majestics, affiliated with the PDL’s Northern Virginia Royals and Super-Y teams, will remain in the W-League, playing to the southwest of DC between Manassas and Dumfries. (See Tweet from @NovaRoyals)

– A new team, tentatively called Washington FC, will also play in the W-League. This team takes over the territory ceded by the former Washington Freedom and will play in the Freedom’s former home, the Maryland Soccerplex, northwest of DC in Boyds, Md.

– The Majestics ownership will be involved with this new team at the Soccerplex, with competitive controls built in to prevent any issues with player movement between the two teams. (Confirmed today with USL management.)

– D.C. United may also be involved with this new team, tentatively called Washington FC, but that cannot be officially announced as yet.

– Meanwhile … magicJack, the WPS team formerly known as the Washington Freedom, may yet hold the door open to play in the Washington area, though their home base will be in Florida. Borislow says he wants the team to play some in the D.C. area but is meeting resistance from Puma. (This from conversation with Dan Borislow today and Potomac Soccer Wire interview.)

– Coincidentally, Borislow’s MagicJacks won the U14 title at the Jefferson Cup, not too far from the Freedom’s former home. (But significantly closer to Manassas.)

Got it? You will be quizzed later.

Could D.C. fans find Freedom in W-League?

Here’s what we know about women’s soccer in the D.C. area and what we don’t know, all leading up to a couple of hypotheticals:

KNOW: The WPS team formerly known as the Washington Freedom is now magicJack’s Washington Freedom. Yes, magicJack … not magicTalk. Dan Borislow, the team owner, says the product name “magicTalk” will be changing.

DON’T KNOW: How many, if any, games this team will play anywhere near Washington. The schedule released today says the following: “The home venue for magicJack’s Washington Freedom will be Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida. The team might play one or two of its home games in the Washington, D.C. area.”

KNOW: Barring an unexpected construction surge, the team will break the record for smallest WPS crowd. Our Game contacted the university’s assistant director for facilities, Mitch Silverman, who said the team would play all of its games at an on-campus stadium that would hold 1,200-1,500 fans. By my hasty calculations scanning through the 2010 and 2009 results, the current record is 1,878.

DON’T KNOW: Whether anyone in South Florida has noticed that they’re getting a soccer team loaded with some of the best women’s soccer players anywhere (Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Christie Rampone, Shannon Boxx). General news searches for “freedom wambach” and “freedom ‘florida atlantic'” turned up nothing. A search for team owner “Borislow” turned up nothing at the Miami Herald and Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel sites. And these are papers with excellent soccer reporters. That’s how quietly Borislow is doing things.

KNOW: The Maryland SoccerPlex, the Freedom’s home for the last seven years, will be the home field for the W-League’s Washington FC.

DON’T KNOW: Who owns Washington FC. (Yes, I’m looking into it.)

KNOW: Borislow, who bought the Freedom from the Hendricks family (WUSA founders), owns the Freedom trademark and could be stuck with it thanks to the complexities of uniform contracts with Puma. If he were to stop using that trademark, it could revert to WPS. But it’s a little murky from that point.

DON’T KNOW: Whether Borislow could sell or bestow that trademark to Washington FC. When asked if he would be willing to let a new club inherit the Freedom name and the Freedom’s relationships with youth clubs, Borislow said, “I would do anything to help youth soccer.” He wasn’t sure whether he could grant Washington FC the rights to the name.

KNOW: WPS has no leverage with Borislow. He most likely saved the league from extinction. If he hadn’t stepped up, WPS might not exist. And no one in the Washington area did it.

DON’T KNOW: Whether women’s soccer as a whole will be better off this way. I asked aloud on Twitter today whether fans would’ve preferred that the remaining WPS teams simply fold into the W-League, where they can play as professional teams. The reaction ranged from indifference to enthusiasm.

So is the best solution for Washington fans to hope that the W-League Washington FC is run by ambitious folks who can reclaim the Freedom name and build a team that could possibly jump into WPS if the league is healthy down the road? Possibly.

Can they do it?

We don’t know.

Midweek Myriad: Marta, Nadal, handball, 1260s, etc.

One of the joys of following a hundred sports or so is that you’re not stuck dissecting the Super Bowl to the point that it becomes joyless. Instead, we have all this:

Marta signs with Western New York. A WPS shocker. Good news from a media point of view because it means more of us will be paying attention to veteran Rochester reporter Jeff DiVeronica, who jokes on Twitter that Marta will push him up to 1,000 followers.

The conventional wisdom would be that Marta would sign with The Club Formerly And Still Partially Known As The Washington Freedom But Also With Magic Jack In The Name (TCFASPKATWFBAWMJITN) so that Dan Borislow would have a marquee player to market in South Florida and perhaps somewhere in Washington once the team hires marketing and sales staffs and finds venues in which to play. Instead, Borislow has given us the best WPS smack talk in the league’s brief history, via Our Game: “This came as a total surprise. I am glad she will be playing in the league. She will discover we are the team to beat, so I hope she is at the top of her game when she plays us.”

For all the talk in MLS about “Rivalry Week,” maybe we should be circling the calendar for TCFASPKATWFBAWMJITN’s visit to Rochester.

Nadal loses. And it’s a pity. Tennis could use a Grand Slam charge from the charismatic, humble Spaniard, but an injury has derailed his Australian Open campaign. Nadal didn’t want to use the injury as an excuse, but he wasn’t fooling opponent David Ferrer. Class acts all around. (NYT)

– Winter X Games time. And the NYT notes that several more X sports may be joining the Winter Olympic program. No word on women’s ski jumping, though that sport has a better-defined set of rules and so forth.

The Summer Olympics might be too big. The Winter Olympics aren’t, and it’s hard to begrudge slopestyle its place. But if the IOC adds the X sports without women’s ski jumping, the excuses will ring hollow.

Handball heaven. It’s only $20 away. At least the highlights are free, so I was able to scout semifinalist France in their win over my buddies from Iceland in a rematch of the 2008 Olympic final. (Dan Steinberg also enjoyed covering that team in Beijing and linked to my highest-read blog post ever.)

Iceland plays Croatia for fifth place on Friday. The semifinals the same day: France-Sweden, Denmark-Spain.

Also this weekend:

  • Cyclocross World Championships. The muddier, the better.
  • U.S. Figure Skating Championships, in my former hometown of Greensboro.
  • Luge World Championships. U.S. sliders not having a particularly good year.
  • Paralympic Athletics World Championships.
  • Millrose Games.
  • Strikeforce: Middleweight and welterweight title fights, plus Herschel Walker.
  • Final weekend of Tata Steel chess classic, where U.S. player Hikaru Nakamura shares the lead in an elite group.

Mad about the Freedom? Place the blame on …

Yes, WPS and Washington Freedom fans, I hear you. BigSoccer hears you. The transitional staff hears you. You’re sad that the name may change and that the team may play games in (or eventually move to) South Florida. You’re frustrated that the new owner is talking of upgrading the team to win a championship while having no staff to participate in a free-agent market that has seen much of the team move elsewhere.

What I can tell you is that WPS and former Freedom personnel always stress the same thing in their conversations: Without new majority owner Dan Borislow, this team wouldn’t exist. The league might not have made it to Season 3.

If the doomsayers are correct and 2011 proves to be a sad farewell to what’s left of the Freedom, the blame should fall on the Washington region itself.

Not on the fans, who have supported the team reasonably well given the long drive up I-270 to the Soccerplex. The blame should fall on anyone who had the wherewithal to invest in the team … and didn’t.

It’s not as if this region has no money. Some of the suburbs are the richest towns in the country that can’t be skied or sailed into. Visit sometime, and I’ll drive you past some houses whose mortgage payments make Marta’s paychecks look like sofa change.

But when it comes to soccer, the rich folks and the businesses don’t step up. Ask D.C. United, which really needs a local investor to help out Will Chang, who has put his heart, soul and wallet into the team from across the country. The most prominent local company to step up with United is Volkswagen, the German automaker with a U.S. operation in exurban Herndon, Va.

Washington’s other pro sports teams feature one of the best owners in sports (Capitals/Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, who made his fortune with AOL) and worst (he shall not be named). Leonsis loves his community as much as any owner in the country, but we can’t ask him to buy and finance everything in town.

Two possible reasons why the Freedom eventually turned to an out-of-town savior:

1. Unwillingness to be associated too closely with “Washington.” Everyone wants to live here; no one wants to admit it. The rest of the country hears nonstop chatter from political candidates pledging to change Washington, the supposed cesspool on the Potomac. The region has plenty of big local businesses — contractors, lobbying firms, finance companies, tech firms, etc. — but they make their money nationally.

2. As Kenn Tomasch will surely stop by and point out — this isn’t charity. A lot of investors want to see return on their money.

Maybe Borislow can make his new direction work. If he does, all Freedom fans can do is lament the fact that no one felt strongly enough about the Washington Freedom to help a deeply rooted 10-year-old club turn the corner as it was.

Selling WPS tickets in transition (updated)

In working on a story that I’ll likely publish somewhere between now and Christmas (just in time for no one to see it), I was told by several people that the Washington Freedom were conducting business as usual for the moment.

Nothing was set in stone in terms of changing the name from the Freedom to magicTalk FC, incorporating the name of new majority owner Dan Borislow’s new product. Mark Washo, who had spent the last couple of years as Freedom GM/president, had announced his departure to work for Playbook Management International, was still running the team on an interim basis. The club’s Super-Y League teams went to the North American finals in Florida a few weeks ago and cleaned up, with all four teams making their age-group semis, one falling in the final and two winning the big trophy.

Then late last week, Jeff Kassouf passed along word that the Freedom had laid off their remaining staff.

So, hypothetically, if you wanted tickets for WPS games in the Washington area as Christmas presents, how would you order them? Or how would you contact the team with other questions?

You could order season tickets online, though you may wonder about ordering a 12-game package given all the open talk among league and team officials about splitting the 2011 season between Maryland and Florida. If you call, you’ll find the voice mail system still offering to connect you with account executive Tim Albee or other departmental contacts. Then if you dial the operator, you hear this:

“Experius — may I help you?”

And they’ll kindly transfer you back to the Freedom switchboard if you so choose.

Experius is a company founded by John Hendricks, the Discovery Channel magnate who founded the WUSA and the Freedom. He and his wife, Maureen, sold a majority share of the Freedom to Borislow this fall.

The Freedom roster, meanwhile, is a considerable state of flux — Ashlyn Harris, Allie Long and Cat Whitehill are among those who have gone elsewhere.

Will anyone be in place before the holidays? During? Before next month’s draft?

Updates:

1. There is indeed a transitional staff in place. Some staffers who have been laid off will continue working for the next couple of weeks. So if you order something from the Web site (scarves, shirts, etc.), you should get it.

2. Borislow says the team will give pro-rata refunds for games not played in Maryland. Full refunds will be offered.

3. This from Borislow: “The team will be significantly upgraded and we expect to win the Championship this year.”

Why the Washington Freedom should not collapse

Forgive me for going personal in this post, but it’s important to trace the history here:

A few times in the five-year gap between the WUSA and WPS, I made the trek out to the Maryland SoccerPlex to see the Washington Freedom, still kicking around and keeping the name and flame alive for women’s soccer in the region. In 2004, they were an exhibition team playing against more structured teams such as the W-League’s New Jersey Wildcats, who featured WUSA stars Kelly Smith and Marinette Pichon. By 2007, they were in the W-League with a strong mix of WUSA vets and younger players who would end up on the roster when WPS finally launched in 2009.

It was an admirable effort to keep things going, and they did more than just gather a group of 18 for a matchday. The Freedom built a legitimate club with a well-established youth program.

So when the news came last night from Jeff Kassouf that the Washington Freedom and FC Gold Pride were folding, it’s safe to say my shock and disbelief spoiled an otherwise entertaining MLS playoff game.

Not that bad news from WPS should be a shock. We’ve seen a couple of teams fold, one in midseason. When The Washington Post‘s Steve Goff made a rare appearance at a Freedom game after a season in which several home games were completely uncovered by the Post staff, someone leaked to him the news that WPS commissioner Tonya Antonucci was being pushed out and the Freedom’s owners — the Hendricks family — were uncertain about their commitment for next season. The interpretation of Antonucci’s exit is debatable, and we still have to wonder who in Washington (well, Montgomery County, Md., to be precise) has an anonymous beef with what’s left of the WPS front office. And we have to wonder if that beef is preventing the Freedom from paying the up-front money into an escrow fund designed to prevent a repeat of the St. Louis situation, in which the Athletica disappeared midseason when funding dried up.

After Kassouf’s post, WPS PR consultant Rob Penner, who was traveling, got on Twitter quickly to say there’s no announcement today and that the league’s board is still working to get everyone on board for next season. Kassouf posted a Twitter update saying the announcement of teams folding may be pushed back from Monday but that Freedom and Gold Pride missed October payments. “Miracles ($) needed,” Kassouf concluded.

That’s a fair conclusion. The Hendricks family had been quietly seeking new investors for a while. No organization ever wants to appear desperate, but that search needs to get a little noisier.

I can’t speak too much to FC Gold Pride’s situation, though I’d think the team could find a middle ground between absorbing the brunt of Marta’s salary and going into extinction. Fake Sigi, in a sound summary of the situation, points out that the team was rather bullish a month ago.

Fake Sigi also notes the similarity between MLS 2001 and WPS 2010, which Dustin Christmann also noted on Twitter in response to a curious Goff Tweet saying WPS was “becoming a cause rather a business.” That statement seems a little more applicable to a club like Barcelona, which tolerates a lot of financial risk and operates under the famous “mas que un club” (more than a club) philosophy. Phil Anschutz being the reclusive man that he is, we’ll never know what sort of faith convinced him to lay down the nine-figure investment he made in MLS. And we don’t know whether the Hendricks family keep the Freedom alive through so many lean years because (A) they believed in women’s soccer in the abstract or (B) they expected to make a fortune down the road. Or some combination of the two.

Gayle Bryan, in another excellent summary of what we know and what we don’t, asks the most pertinent question about the Freedom:

The Hendricks have stuck with the Washington Freedom through the WUSA. They kept the team together when there was no professional league and they’ve made it through the first two seasons of WPS. Why bail now?

Indeed — pulling the plug now would seem to be the equivalent of working through a maze, ruling out several possible paths and then saying, “Nah, let’s quit.” WPS is going all-in on the most slimmed-down business structure imaginable for a national league (and if there are no California teams, it’s more of a regional league, with four teams on the Northeast I-95 corridor along with Chicago and Atlanta). Seems only fair to give that structure one year and see if there’s a Women’s World Cup boost, then re-evaluate.

The future for women’s soccer may indeed be what the Freedom and other top-tier W-League teams did from 2004 to 2008. NCAA regulations are getting looser, so putting college players and national team stars in the same league might be less problematic than it has been. The W-League already pulled that off for years, somehow making it worthwhile for a handful of foreign players and fringe U.S. national teamers to play alongside the NCAA’s best.

If that’s the future, the Freedom would be well-placed to thrive. If WPS survives into 2012, the Freedom surely should be part of it.

Keeping a valuable organization alive is no more of a “cause” than keeping MLS alive in 2001. With their backs against the wall, MLS owners (all three of them, at the time) had to figure out how to make things work. Women’s pro soccer backers are at that point now. They know the WUSA model is too big, at least for now. Some think they can go bigger than the W-League.

If Gold Pride can’t survive to make it another year, that’s regrettable. If the Washington Freedom let a decade of history and youth development go to waste for want of one escrow payment, that’s unfathomable.

This region has plenty of money. Surely someone is willing to risk a relatively small amount of it on something that’s already valuable.

Update: Andy Mead was kind enough to pass along the new USL logos, in which the W-League is branded as “pro-am.”

Clarification: There is, as I suggested on Twitter last night, a difference between the Freedom folding the entire operation and withdrawing from WPS. They could give up on WPS now and revert to the W-League, which I’m sure would be happy to have them. I’m not sure that’s the best course of action — they’d surely have to give up Abby Wambach, for one thing — but it’s certainly better than folding up completely.

WPS seasons change: Freedom advance, Scurry says goodbye, Antonucci out?

Updated below with Hope Solo comments, expansion news

The Maryland SoccerPlex is a good bit cooler today that it was this summer. Rather than worrying about heatstroke, those of us in short-sleeve shirts wish we had brought jackets.

As the seasons change, the WPS regular season ended as well, with a thrilling finale, a heartfelt farewell and worrisome news off the field.

With the Washington Freedom possibly needing a win to reach the playoffs, depending on the result in the concurrent Sky Blue FC-Boston game, Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Wambach found their timing in the 88th minute. Sauerbrunn’s ball put Wambach in space behind the Atlanta back line. Hope Solo, who already had a couple of good saves, came out toward the top of the box. Wambach chipped her national teammate for the goal.

“It’s not really my style of goal, but I’ll take it,” Wambach said.

As it turned out, defending champion Sky Blue never got their goal, and the Freedom didn’t technically need that goal. Wambach says the Freedom players only got a couple of updates while focusing on their own game, but the Freedom were very happy to go through on a high note.

From the pressbox and the Twittersphere, the game was played under a cloud. Anonymous sources told The Washington Post‘s Steven Goff, who was unusually present at the game, that WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci would step down. The league office declined comment.

More ominous from Goff’s post: “Current investors, including the Hendricks family, which operates the Washington Freedom, have yet to decide whether to continue funding the league, sources said.”

Players shrugged off the news. Solo was most insistent: “I think you’re going to see a league next season. There are always those rumors. You just go on. I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.”

Solo and teammate Lori Chalupny started the year in St. Louis before the Athletica folded. Chalupny, icing her shin and saying she’s still awaiting word from the national team that she’s cleared to play for them after a concussion, laughed about all the drama she has endured through the year. She says she isn’t thinking ahead to anything except starting her coaching career with storied St. Louis youth club Scott Gallagher.

Solo said she’s has worse years but this one was up there. “I’ve never been on a losing team. You learn a lot. I don’t regret it. I miss St. Louis, I still have great respect for (former Athletica owner) Jeff Cooper.”

And she insists the Beat will be back stronger. “You can see that we’re going to be contenders next season.”

Meanwhile, Washington prepared a video montage to bid farewell to longtime U.S. national team goalkeeper Briana Scurry. Solo’s thoughts: “I wish her all the best. She’s had an amazing career. Everybody should be applauding.”

The Freedom battled back from a long winless streak this season. One of the changes they made was symbolic: Wambach and Cat Whitehill both wore a captain’s armband, which Whitehill said was designed to make sure everyone kept an eye on the team’s leadership.

Washington had to keep the faith during that drought. Whitehill also talked about keeping faith in WPS while the rumors swirl.

“The confidence comes from the fact that we want it. We believe in each other, we believe in this league, and we’re going to do whatever it takes. We all knew that the first five years were going to be hard. People bought into it, literally and figuratively, and it’s been great.”

Updates: One bit of news in Goff’s post that bears emphasizing is that the league also seems set on expansion to Buffalo/Rochester. Mixed messages, perhaps, or at least a sign of optimism.

Now here’s where it gets curious: A few minutes after Hope Solo told me with a smile that there would be a league next year, she Tweets the following:

Its official, the refs are straight bad. Its clear the league wanted dc in playoffs. I have truly never seen anything like this. Its sad.

A goal taken away with no explanation, one offsides call against dc, many against atlanta. An amazing all ball tackle for a red.

We play with 10, DC with 12. Players punched in the face. Free corners. I am done playing in a league where the game is no longer … In control of the players.

As I Tweeted a few times during the game, the ref had a poor night. But I saw several calls go against the Freedom — two very good shouts for penalties, including one that was as clear as it could be, plus a disallowed goal on what we’re told was an offside call even though a Beat defender joined Solo on the goal line.

Biased? No. But not good. Solo has a right to be frustrated. But is officiating that much better in the Frauenbundesliga? We’ll have to ask Jenna at All White Kit.

Worth noting: The Federation, not leagues, are in charge of refs. Officiating was a particular concern of Antonucci’s.

Freedom’s misfortunes touch Gold Pride, too

FC Gold Pride wasn’t necessarily planning to turn the entire Saturday evening at the Maryland SoccerPlex into one large-scale counterattack. The game just turned out that way, with the Bay Area team on their heels in the first half and then taking advantage of opportunities in the second.

The 4-1 final score was deceptive, and with Freedom keeper Erin McLeod suffering a knee injury bearing all the signs of something serious, the visitors weren’t getting too giddy.

Yet the game showed how much is going Gold Pride’s way this season and how much is going wrong for the Freedom, who tumbled out of playoff position with the loss.

Sympathy for McLeod

McLeod’s injury was particularly tough on Gold Pride forward Christine Sinclair, her Canadian national teammate.

Continue reading Freedom’s misfortunes touch Gold Pride, too

Game report: Freedom 0, Red Stars 0 (updates with quotes)

BOYDS, Md. — Though they were playing at home, the Washington Freedom may consider themselves lucky to have escaped with a 0-0 draw Sunday against fellow playoff bubble team Chicago.

Despite the oppressive heat — 96 degrees by one check at kickoff — the Red Stars came out running, with a direct approach that kept the Freedom on their heels much of the game. The stats told the story — Chicago outshot Washington 23-5, putting 11 shots on goal to Washington’s 3.

“We knew early on that it was going to be hot this week, so we wanted the ball to do the work,” Freedom forward Abby Wambach said. “But to be quite honest, I felt like they had the ball the whole game. There’s probably 10 different reasons why that’s the case, but the fact is it’s no fun to play when the other team has the ball and you’re defending the whole game.”

Chicago co-captain Kate Markgraf says the tactics were a departure for a team that’s normally possession-oriented.

“The way D.C. plays, sometimes that’s the only option,” Markgraf said. “They clog the center so much.”

Coach Omid Namazi felt the Red Stars were ready to turn up the heat.

“We’ve been working a lot on our fitness,” Namazi said. “We’ve also been working on the speed of our play. We still lack that finishing touch.”

Chicago had a lively start with Marian Dalmy’s long ball to Megan Rapinoe, who shot high. Washington countered with a more patient but equally effective buildup, with a series of passes down the right springing Lene Mykjaland against keeper Jillian Loyden, who was alert to the danger.

They traded chances again before the 15-minute mark, with Dalmy again sending a long ball to Ella Masar and a Freedom free kick causing chaos in the Chicago box.

Cristiane looked dangerous on the left flank for Chicago with good footwork and speed, setting up Masar for a terrific chance from 12 yards, but the shot sailed high.

The game slowed for the next 15 minutes, though Chicago continued to bypass the midfield in its buildup. Dalmy drilled a 30-yard free kick on frame for Erin McLeod to punch over, and the ensuing corner yielded another shot, a Cristiane header easily collected.

Within two minutes, Masar was again on the receiving end of a long ball, with McLeod just getting enough of the ball to keep out of danger.

The Freedom finally got another chance on a 42nd-minute free kick that Sonia Bompastor cheekily sent toward the near post while most traffic went far. Mykjaland couldn’t get a clear shot.

Early in the second half, McLeod again had to be alert on a long ball to Masar, coming up to challenge just in time.

The Red Stars’ direct danger continued in the 65th, with a through ball that put Cristiane a step ahead of the defense. But her touch failed her ever so slightly, and Nikki Marshall broke up the play with a well-timed slide.

The substitution patterns seemed backward, with the Freedom taking out attacking players at home. At halftime, midfielder Beverly Goebel replaced the ever-dangerous Bompastor.

“She physically just couldn’t do what she normally could do,” Freedom coach Jim Gabarra said in a postgame interview on the Soccerplex PA system. “She was in the All-Star Game a couple of days ago. Prior to that, she’s been fatigued with all the play.”

In the 70th, defender Kristi Eveland replaced forward Lene Mykjaland, though the Freedom pushed converted forward Marshall from the backline up alongside Abby Wambach.

“It was pretty unexpected,” Marshall said. “I had played a little bit of forward the last couple of weeks in practice. But he just kind of threw me up there to see what would happen. I’m excited — I hope I get to play more up there. I think I could have done a little bit more — I’m not pleased with my performance completely, but I only got 15 minutes up there.”

The Red Stars kept pressing, bringing in forwards Casey Nogueira and Kosovare Asllani to replace starting attackers Masar and Rapinoe.

But the Freedom started to get chances, earning a free kick that Cat Whitehill ripped just wide. Then Marshall sprang free on the left, only to be see the danger cut out by a speedy recovery from ageless captain Kate Markgraf.

Whitehill, Markgraf’s frequent national team line-mate, made an uncharacteristic misplay of the ball in her own box in the 80th. Chicago centered to the top of the box for Karen Carney, whose shot produced McLeod’s toughest save of the afternoon.

“Our theme this week was about having each other’s back,” McLeod said. “Cat played a tremendous 89 minutes and 45 seconds, and she had that one lapse. We have to be there for those mistakes, and we were.”

The Red Stars’ efforts deserved a goal, and it nearly came in the 85th minute. Asllani played a through ball to fellow sub Nogueira, splitting the defense. McLeod came out to challenge at the top of the box, getting there just as Nogueira shot. The ball trickled just wide of the goal.

“That was a relief, especially the timing of the game,” McLeod said. “We played Philly and lost in the last few minutes of the game.”

McLeod wasn’t surprised, though, to race off her line a few times.

“Cat Whitehill does a tremendous job of keeping a high line,” McLeod said. “When the defense keeps a high line, you have to ready to come out. Cat was yelling at me a couple of times to get my ass out, and I did.”

The defensive end wasn’t really the Freedom’s problem, anyway.

“I’m as frustrated as I’ve ever been today,” Wambach said. “I just can’t find the ball. I had one good chance and didn’t do my best with it.”

Chicago could be pleased with the road draw if not for the fact that they’re still three points behind the Freedom in the race for the fourth playoff spot.

“We have to get points, though,” Markgraf said. “We’re not in the playoffs right now.”

“These are opportunities we’ve got to start taking,” Namazi said.

WPS: Bompastor goes mindless; Solo reviews Dave Matthews

In terms of lead-ins for the Washington Freedom, D.C. United’s loss in the ancient broiler known as RFK Stadium wasn’t exactly a new episode of Seinfeld. Fortunately, the Freedom and St. Louis Athletica turned around with a game that entertained the few thousand who remained.

“The fans that stayed over were loud,” Washington’s Abby Wambach said. “I felt we had a good fan base behind us.”

“I think they enjoyed the game,” Washington defender midfielder Sonia Bompastor said. “It was a great game with a lot of intensity. We scored three goals, and both teams played well with a lot of heart.”

Bompastor moved up from left back to left midfield and responded with a 19th-minute blast for the Freedom’s first goal.

“To be honest, I don’t like too much to play left back,” Bompastor said. “It’s not my favorite position. I know some games we need me to be left back, but I prefer to be midfield. I’m more free, and I don’t have to think.”

Wait … don’t have to think?!

“When you are playing midfield, you just have to run,” Bompastor said. “You have to think, but I know how to do because I was midfield in France.”

Freedom coach Jim Gabarra wasn’t planning to shut down the French star’s brain. He had tactical reasons for the switch.

“We needed to get her more attacking but also get Becky (Sauerbrunn) on the back line. She brings a lot of calm and defensive ability. It helps (rookie defender) Nikki Marshall out, having a more defensive player next to her that’s going to talk to her.”

Both teams warmed up quickly to keep the crowd from getting too restless while many of RFK’s concession stands shut down. St. Louis’ Shannon Boxx didn’t mind.

“Preparation’s different wherever you go. I think it’s great that they did the doubleheader. RFK Stadium’s a great place to play.”

St. Louis keeper Hope Solo had mixed feelings about RFK: “It’s a great field, beautiful stadium, but I enjoy playing in smaller, intimate soccer-specific stadiums. But this is awesome – you can’t complain about it.”

After winning gold in Beijing, Solo told me she was looking forward to getting back and seeing Dave Matthews Band. During the Olympics, DMB saxophonist LeRoi Moore passed away from complications resulting from an ATV accident.

How has the band been since then?

“I love their new album, that’s for sure, and I can’t wait for them to come to St. Louis,” Solo said. “They played with so much passion after they lost LeRoi. Some of their best shows were live after that.”

Final note from RFK: Briana Scurry, injured in her lone appearance for the Freedom this year, doesn’t seem to be holding a grudge over the 2007 World Cup controversy. She came over and gave Solo a friendly hug after the game.