Originally created 08/24/02

WUSA crown would add to Hamm's collection



ATLANTA - Mia Hamm has done it all during her brilliant career.

Well, almost everything.

Today, she'll try to reach another milestone when the Washington Freedom plays the Carolina Courage in Founders Cup II, the WUSA championship game.

"I'm asked all the time how this compares to the World Cup, the Olympics," Hamm said Friday before the Freedom held its final tuneup at Herndon Stadium. "It's right up there. We're not just players. We actually had a huge part in getting this league off the ground."

Hamm, the leading international scorer in women's soccer history, starred for the landmark U.S. teams that won the Olympic gold medal in 1996 and the World Cup in 1999.

Those accomplishments showcased her considerable athletic skills, but Hamm and her national teammates had to be more than just players to get WUSA off the ground in 2001.

"From meeting with investors, trying to bring them along, to looking at the facilities, to coming up with the unified player agreement, all the things that make it feel like it's your league," Hamm said. "It really feels like our league."

Hamm is coming off the most serious injury of her career, missing nearly half the season after knee surgery. She returned as a substitute but managed to spark the Freedom to their first playoff berth.

Washington was mired in sixth place when Hamm came off the injured list June 12. She scored within seven minutes of entering her first game, and the team is 10-1-2 in its past 13 games.

"I feel good," Hamm said. "Every game, the knee feels a little better. I'll get as many minutes as I can."

Washington coach Jim Gabarra wouldn't rule out the idea of moving Hamm back into the starting lineup, though she has readily accepted her role off the bench. She averaged a goal every 63 minutes during the regular season - the bestaverage in the league.

"If we have the same success, and I only play 45 minutes," Hamm said, "I'll take it."

The Courage had to get through a good part of the season without defensive stalwart Carla Overbeck, longtime captain of the U.S. national team.

She played only nine regular-season games because of a knee injury, but had great timing with her first point of the season. Last week, Overbeck scored off a rebound to give the Courage a 2-1 overtime victory over the Atlanta Beat in the semifinals.

"I'm definitely not 100 percent," she said. "Any way I can help the team, I'll do it. If it means sitting on the bench, fine. If it means playing five minutes, I'll take it."