In 2002, Wambach was selected second during the first round of the 2002 WUSA Draft by the Washington Freedom for the second season of the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA). After tying with the Carolina Courage for last place during the previous season, the Freedom hoped to turn things around in 2002. With Mia Hamm out for the first half of the season for knee surgery and recovery, the Freedom found themselves in sixth place. After Hamm's return, the team finished the remainder of the season 9–1–2, finishing third with a berth into the playoffs. Of the team's turnaround, Wambach noted, "Early on in the season it was difficult to get everyone on the same page. Mia was out, we had just started playing with the Chinese players, Steffi hadn't come yet. There were so many factors that went into us not playing as well. Since people have returned, and we have been able to grasp what exactly one another was doing out there, it's been easier to get results. " During the semi-finals, the Freedom upset the Philadelphia Charge 1–0. During the final against the Carolina Courage, the Freedom lost in front of 12,000 spectators at Herndon Stadium in Atlanta. Wambach assisted on Hamm's 64th-minute goal, the team's second goal, after the Courage's Danielle Fotopoulos scored an own goal in the 31st minute; however, it was not enough to equalize Carolina's three goals. After leading all first-year players in the league in scoring, Wambach was named WUSA Rookie of the Year in 2002. She was Washington's leading scorer with ten goals and ten assists and finished tied for fourth for scoring in the WUSA.