SAN DIEGO One minute after Mia Hamm was poised to be the hero, teammate Abby Wambach got her chance.
She found nothing but net.
Wambach scored the winning goal in the sixth minute of overtime shortly after Hamm bounced a free kick off the crossbar and the Washington Freedom defeated the Atlanta Beat 2-1 in the WUSA championship game on Sunday.
Wambach, one of the bright young stars of U.S. women's soccer, scored both of Washington's goals and was named the game's MVP. She and Hamm hoisted the Founders Cup, representing the only championship that had so far eluded Hamm in her brilliant career.
"To lift the trophy means more than probably any words can explain," Wambach said shortly after emerging from underneath a pile of ecstatic teammates. "It's the greatest feeling that I've had in my soccer career."
She's probably going to have a few more big moments. Wambach, 23, who scored Washington's other goal in regulation, was the WUSA's rookie of the year in 2002 and is expected to be one of the core players of the U.S. national team this decade.
After tying for the WUSA scoring lead with Hamm during the regular season with 33 points, she scored her first two career playoff goals.
"From the first whistle, you could see Abby was physically and emotionally invested," Hamm said. "That set the tone for everyone."
Said coach Jim Gabarra: "Abby was not going to let us lose. She deserved those two goals."
Wambach was taken down hard by Nancy Augustyniak just outside the penalty box in the 94th minute, setting up a free kick. Augustyniak was ejected.
Hamm took the kick from within the arc but slammed it off the crossbar.
Just a minute later, Wambach took a crossing pass from Jenny Meier, a second-half substitution, and beat goalie Briana Scurry with a close-range shot from the left side.
Wambach was mobbed by her teammates while Scurry sank to her knees after having lost in the title game twice in its three-year history.
Atlanta had dominated possession in the second half, which made it that much tougher for the Beat to take the loss.
"We just walked into their end of the field, quite honestly," coach Tom Stone said. "I was so pleased, but then so devastated. It was a great direct ball by them to beat us in overtime."
Gabarra thought the Atlanta players were fatigued, "and that was the difference on the game-winning goal. We got around them."
This was a battle of Founders Cup bridesmaids and it was a rough one, with five yellow cards and Augustyniak's red card. The Freedom lost last year's title game to Carolina, and Atlanta lost to the Bay Area CyberRays in 2001.
"To lose in overtime the way we did was like sticking a knife in our hearts," said Atlanta star Charmaine Hooper, who scored on a penalty kick in the 45th minute.
Washington reached the title game by beating Boston on penalty kicks. Atlanta got there by beating San Diego in overtime. So it seemed fitting that the game was tied 1-1 after 90 minutes.
Wambach scored the second-fastest goal in Founders Cup history when she got behind defender Sharolota Nonen and headed the ball into the lower left side of the net past Scurry.
The fastest goal in the brief history of the WUSA was Brandi Chastain's in the sixth minute of the first Founders Cup.
Atlanta tied it 1-1 on Hooper's penalty kick, when she easily put it past goalie Siri Mullinix. The kick was set up when Washington's Skylar Little fouled Leslie Gaston.
Hooper was booed during the pregame introductions and when she was announced to take the penalty kick. It was her goal in overtime a week earlier that beat San Diego, keeping the Spirit from playing for the championship at home.
Mullinix made several nice saves in the second half.
Hamm wouldn't say if this was her last WUSA season.
"I have four days off, and I cannot wait," Hamm said. "Then I start training with the national team."
Asked to look beyond this fall's World Cup, Hamm said: "I can't. I have a calendar, but I kind of don't really look at it."