Abby Wambach’s life story contains an outstanding chapter, an exemplary, necessarily rebellious, and successful one. “I can’t wait to see what my next chapter in life will be”, said Wambach after she retired from professional football. Looking over her football career, which was always intertwined with actions of solidarity and social protest, her future appears to be brilliant.
Wambach (Rochester, New York, USA, 02/06/1980) has not ceased taking part in meetings with different corporate chief executives of major companies since she played her very last match with the US women’s national team at the end of 2015. The football stadium was full of fans expecting to see the last moments on the pitch of the 35-year-old team captain. The match was against China and it put as well an end to the US national team’s Victory Tour after becoming world champions in Canada.
Abby is now working full time on her biography, which is expected to be published by the end of 2016: a look back over Abby Wambach’s first steps with the ball in Rochester, maybe a review of the evolution of football (soccer in the USA), a look back from her first moments, in which her play was quicker and more complicated, and she was thrown long balls for her to control or head on to Mia Hamm, up until the moment of her victorious retirement.
Obviously, her passion for football will remain the same. To begin with, she will attend the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro to witness, perhaps, how her national team wins a gold medal again.
Abby Wambach’s track record is amazing: two Olympic gold medals, which could have been three of them. The American forward participated in Athens 2004 and London 2012, where the US national team won a gold medal, respectively. Her team did win a third gold medal in Beijing; however, Wambach did not attend those Games following a severe injure she got a few weeks before the Olympic Games, in July, while she was playing an exhibition game against Brazil (she broke her tibia and fibula). Lauren Chaney replaced her in the US list, and precisely the Final in those Olympic Games was against Brazil. Carli Lloyd (for whom we will keep a special chapter) scored the winning goal in the 96th minute.
It wasn’t until Atlanta ’96, by the way, that women football was first included in the Olympics Games. And yes, the USA won the gold medal.
Throughout her history, Abby Wambach participated in four World Cups. She became finally world champion in 2015, in Canada, after beating the Japan national team in a Final followed by almost 27 million viewers. Speaking of which, it was in Canada 2015 where Spain took part for the first time in a Women’s World Cup. Before becoming a world champion in Canada, Wambach, with her national team, finished once in the second place, and twice in the third place. Wambach was awarded the 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year. Still, her great individual landmark is being the highest goal scorer in a national team in history: 182 goals scored in 255 matches.
Abby is the youngest of seven siblings (with two sisters and four brothers) born to Pete and Judy Wambach. One of her sisters wanted to try the sport, and a 4-year-old Abby decided to follow her steps. That decision, getting a book about football that her mother checked out for her, and the fact itself of living and competing with so many brothers was the beginning of the Rochester legend.
A brilliant career
Abby stood out very soon. She was great at headers; she was a skilled player. She did not stop getting better and better, which led her to be included in the Olympic Development Program (ODP) since her teenage years. When the time to choose university came, Wambach was intensely sought after by numerous colleges. In 1998, she decided to attend the University of Florida. Despite being a fresher, she managed soon to stand out with the Florida Gators. In the USA, it is essential to go through intercollegiate leagues before reaching the professional league, as it happens, for instance, with basketball.
Four years later Wambach was selected by the Washington Freedom, a team playing in the no longer existing WUSA League (Women’s United Soccer Association). There she happened to meet Mia Hamm, the USA women’s and international football legend, who passed the baton to her. Wambach and Hamm made an excellent team on the pitch and their team won the Founders Cup in 2003.
In September of that year, Wambach made her debut in a Women’s World Cup. She was the new player in a team that had already played brilliantly together in 1999. Her football career back then set her already apart in that national team, which was defeated by Germany in the Semi-finals. Wambach indeed talked about her impressions on that World Cup on the FIFA website:
«After ’99, that year being the second year in a row that the World Cup was hosted in the US, I was, regardless of the circumstances, the one piece that was different from ‘99. That World Cup ended up being a good thing as that failure definitely shaped the success of my career later on. I remember the German players happily running around for a long time. The coach, April Heinrichs, saw me watching. She said, ‘Come on, let’s go inside’, and I said, ‘No, I want to remember this’».
Wambach, the two times Olympic gold medal winner, scored 182 goals in 255 matches with her national team
Almost a year later came her first magnificent moment. It was in Athens, In the Olympic Final against Brazil. The game went to extra time; however, in the 112th minute, Abby scored the winning goal with one of her distinctive headers claiming this way the Olympic gold medal. She said back then that she couldn’t wait to do this Olympic achievement again. Yet, the injury she got in the friendly match against Brazil in 2008 prevented her attending Olympics Games in Beijing.
A year before, in 2007, she played in the Women’s World Cup in China. Again, the US national team would suffer an earlier exit. They ended up in a third position and Wambach left behind one of her typical images of temperament and attitude. During the first match, the forward from Rochester went up against the North Korean Ri Kum-Suk and both clashed heads. Bleeding, Wambach sprinted to the dressing room to receive stitches and demanded the doctor to act as fast as possible so that she could come back to the game. In the 2011 World Cup in Germany, the US women’s national team was defeated on penalties and finished runners-up in the Final against Japan. However, Wambach had her moment of glory when she scored the equaliser against Brazil (from a header, of course) in the 122nd minute of their quarter-final encounter.
From the gold medal at Wembley to becoming world champion in Canada
At Wembley, in 2012, Abby and her great football generation won the gold medal (the second gold medal in Abby’s career), avenging this way the Germany 2011 Final defeat to Japan with a 2-1 win. Some months later, Wambach was recognised 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year for her performance and five goals scored in the Olympic Games. In June 2013, in a friendly match against Korea, Wambach scored four goals and equalled the record of her friend, Mia Hamm, consisting in 158 goals in international matches.
Her last great match, without taking into account her tribute match, was during the 2015 Canada Women’s World Cup. The US women’s national team did not tremble, even knowing that the match was the end of the road for their great captain. Abby Wambach appeared in the second-half of the Final against Japan, and after winning 5-2, Wambach claimed at last the World Cup title. This gave the finishing touch to her career.
As said before, Abby is waiting now to see how her next chapter in life develops, together with her wife, Sarah Huffman, whom she married in October 2013 in Hawaii. Most probably she will always be committed to football and reaching equality in football and other sports, something she has always fought for. This is the strength this legend of women’s sport offers. The best part, though, is that there are still many other female icons in sport in all countries. We will just need to continue our path and unveil them.
Texto: Raúl Cosín. Traducción: Catts & Docs, Ltd