The Women’s United Soccer Association opened its third and final season on April 5, 2003 with a rematch of the season two Founder’s Cup championship game between the Carolina Courage and the Washington Freedom. The Courage came out the victors in that title bout, defeating the Freedom 3-2, and they hosted this rematch at SAS Soccer Park, their soccer-specific stadium in Cary, North Carolina.
The Freedom was the WUSA’s glamour franchise led by the game’s brightest star, U.S National Team star Mia Hamm. The club also featured one of the game’s most promising young stars, the American striker Abby Wambach, drafted out of the University of Florida with the #2 overall pick in the 2002 WUSA college draft.
The Courage, by comparison, was a more workmanlike squad. Carolina’s American stars – Carla Overbeck, Danielle Fotopoulos and Tiffany Roberts – were strong players who never quite commanded the public adulation of their USWNT teammates Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Kristine Lilly or Michelle Akers. Carolina’s best player was the German striker Birgit Prinz, who fueled the team’s championship run in 2002 with 12 goals. Prinz was entering the peak of her legendary career in 2003, about to reel off a remarkable three-year run (2003-2005) as FIFA’s World Player of the Year.
The match itself reflected the changing of the guard, both in the WUSA and on the U.S. National Team. Prinz got the Courage on the board first with a sixth minute goal, assisted by Fotopoulos and program cover model Hege Riise. But the Freedom ultimately got the best of Carolina, thanks to the past and future symbols of the U.S. National Team. Wambach, emerging as the Americans’ great offensive force of the 2000’s, notched the equalizer in the 44th minute off a feed from Hamm, the brilliant star of the 1990’s. Hamm then put away the game-winner in the 59th minute in Washington’s 2-1 victory.
The result sent both teams on their course for the 2003 season. Carolina never recaptured the momentum of their 2002 title run and finished 7th out of 8 teams. The Freedom finished fourth, but saved their best performances for the postseason, upsetting the top-seeded Boston Breakers in the semis and then defeating the Atlanta Beat for the 2003 Founder’s Cup title in August. Wambach was the MVP of the title match.
The WUSA folded less than a month later on September 15, 2003 after losing $100 million over three seasons.