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Saturday, May 20, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Soccer star baumgardt now a mom, playing for kicks

Special to The Seattle Times

About 20 months ago, former U.S. women's national team player Justi Baumgardt-Yamada gave birth to her first child.

Now, she's back on the playing field helping a new merger of two area soccer teams — the Seattle Sounders Saints Women semipro soccer team, which blends the Sounders and the amateur Hibernian Saints.

Baumgardt-Yamada, 30, who was known as Justi Baumgardt when helping Federal Way High School to Class 4A state titles in 1991 and 1992, got the itch to play again when Randy Hanson, a fellow Washington Premier FC coach, suggested earlier this year that she try out.

Now, she's a midfielder with the Sounders Saints, who opened the 2006 W-League season on the road last Saturday with a 4-1 loss in Vancouver, B.C.

Baumgardt-Yamada didn't make the season-opening trip, so her first real action in almost three years should come Monday in a rematch in Vancouver. She retired in 2003 from the New York Power of the Women's U.S. Soccer Association, a defunct pro league.

"I'm still officially retired from pro soccer," Baumgardt-Yamada said with a laugh. "Just on a whim, I decided to turn out when Randy, who's one of the Sounders Saints coaches, asked me if I wanted to come out to practice.

"I got tired of just running or jogging. It's kind of boring. I miss playing. When you invest so much of your life to [soccer], it's hard to let it go away."

The Sounders Saints play their home opener May 27 at Tukwila's Starfire Sports Complex against Vancouver.

Baumgardt-Yamada, who splits parental duties with husband Tote Yamada for son Caden, hopes to play in eight of the 12 W-League matches, honoring her commitment as Washington Premier FC's Under-18 girls coach and director.

"My first commitment, besides my son, is as director of Washington Premier," she said. "When I'm there with the team, I'm committed. I do what I can to help with my experience.

"It's fun to get out there with no stress and no pressure. My skills haven't diminished but I don't have the same pace or fitness level."

The Sounders Saints Women's roster also features Michelle French, a former national-team player from Kennedy High School who is recovering from offseason knee surgery.

French and Baumgardt-Yamada played together at the University of Portland, from which Baumgardt-Yamada graduated in 1998.

"I remember being the age of a lot of the young [college] girls and making fun of the moms trying to play," Baumgardt-Yamada said. "I shouldn't have made fun of them. Now, I am one."

Two current U.S. national-team members, Tina Frimpong and Hope Solo of the University of Washington, could join the Sounders Saints Women before the summer is over, according coach Teddy Mitalas.

However, Mitalas said the core of the team is built around young college players and recent graduates such as Malia Arrant, who graduated from the UW in 2000.

"We're going to be a young and aggressive team," Mitalas said. "You're going to see a little more fight in the girls than last year. We've been together since January and that's a big thing for us."

Notes

• Two of the area's top clubs, the Seattle Sounders Women and the Hibernian Saints, merged and combined forces to form the Sounders Saints Women for 2006 in The W-League, the highest level of women's soccer in the United States and Canada.

• The Sounders, owned by Adrian Hanauer, and the Saints, owned by Bobby Lane, will split costs in 2006 with hopes that a new pro league for women will return in 2007.

• All home games will be played at the 2,500-seat facility at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila.

• The Sounders Women went 5-9-1 last season in the W-League. The team has played in the league since 2001, and the Sounders Women reached the title game in 2002. The Saints, established in 1989, won national amateur championships in 2003 and 2004 and lost in the finals in 2005.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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