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Sawa's Strike Nets Freedom Much-Needed Win

July 18, 2009 - Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) - magicJack News Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 18, 2009)- Homare Sawa scored her first goal of the season as the Washington Freedom (5-6-5) picked up a vital 1-0 win over St. Louis Athletica (7-6-2) on Saturday evening at RFK Stadium.

Sawa made a run down the right side of the 18-yard box in the 74th minute, and her low, deflected shot scooted past Athletica goalkeeper Jillian Loyden at the near post.

With the win, the Freedom move one point ahead of Sky Blue FC for the fourth and final playoff spot. Sky Blue FC plays the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday.

"I think for any team, besides LA, who are already in the finals, that's all that matters: points matter, goals matter, shutouts matter. All those things come down to the end. This is a very important game. This could decide whether we get into the playoffs, whether we get a home game," said Freedom forward Lisa DeVanna, who had two shots and was very active harrying the Athletica back four.

Minus Abby Wambach, Cat Whitehill, and Erin McLeod due to national team duty, the Freedom were still able to pitch their third shutout (and second against Athletica) of the season, a combined effort from Kati Jo Spisak and Nicci Wright in goal.

Alex Singer, usually on the flanks for coach Jim Gabarra, pushed inside to partner with her former college teammate Becky Sauerbrunn in the center of defense in Whitehill's absence, with another former Virginia Cavalier, Sarah Senty, taking her spot at left back.

The 36-year-old Wright, the Freedom's goalkeeper coach who plied her trade between the pipes during the team's previous incarnation in the WUSA, was signed to a two-day contract as cover with McLeod away and Briana Scurry injured.

That cover came off in the 65th minute when Spisak tweaked her quad and could not continue.

"It's so different when you're out of's more of a mental issue," Wright said of her abrupt return from retirement. "I retired for a reason, because I wanted to coach."

"There's a feeling of relief when [the ball] makes it into your hands...[you] get that first save and you're kinda like, I'm fine, I'm okay."

In a scoreless first half, the best chance came in the 20th minute, when Spisak did well to deny Athletica forward Niki Cross, tipping Cross' header over the crossbar.

A late afternoon start below the July sun clearly took its toll on both teams, with few chances late in the match. Saint Louis mustered just three shots after the intermission, with the lone attempt on frame from Eniola Aluko resulting in an easy catch for Wright in the 75th minute.

"Near the end of the game, they weren't able to put on any pressure and get any clear chances. Defensively we were solid; it was nice to have a coach back there organizing things," said Gabarra.

Next, the Freedom travel to Toyota Park on Sunday, July 26 for an 8 p.m. match against the Chicago Red Stars, while Athletica returns home to play Sky Blue FC this Wednesday, July 22, at 7 p.m.

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