Soccer player Dennis Bergkamp once said, “When you start to support a football club, you don’t support it because of the trophies, or a player, or history, you support it because you found yourself somewhere there: you found a place where you belong.” Each one of us have found a little of us with the United States Women’s National Soccer Team. Somehow we’ll will ourselves to get up at 4 in the morning or 12 at night to watch them play. Why? Because it’s worth it. They make it worth it.
On June 20, 2013, history was made. Abby Wambach scored her 160th goal, surpassing Mia Hamm as the all time international goal scorer. But we need to establish something right now; for the record, this is not just in women’s soccer, this is in all international soccer, men’s included.
Unfortunately, her and the team’s performance was slightly overshadowed by Game 7 of the NBA finals; but there were 18,961 fans in the stadium plus countless others throughout the United States that would much rather watch this team and a player like Abby make history than a NBA final. For a while, the United States and the world were more excited about Abby Wambach than Game 7, her once reaching the top trending topic in the United States and eventually trending worldwide. For 5 minutes, the United States recognized that an icon of U.S. Soccer had just surpassed another legend and they set all other things aside, they set Lebron James and the Heat aside, because a leader of the team, a person in the forefront of women’s soccer for more than 9 years just did something no one else had ever done.
Isn’t it fitting that Lauren Cheney who replaced Wambach on the 2008 Olympic roster when she broke her leg, who assisted her 100th goal, assisted the record tying goal? And maybe it’s a little more fitting that Megan Rapinoe who assisted the “header heard ‘round the world” against Brazil in 2011 sent in a corner kick that Wambach finished with her head (fittingly) to pass the record. It all seemed like a fairy-tail story last night, and it did have a perfect ending.
As a sports country, we’re so used to the headlines being about male sports, the millions and millions of dollars they’re being paid, the good and the bad. Wambach and the USWNT are a breath of fresh air. They’re selfless, humble, always looking out for each other. They don’t get paid millions of dollars to do what they do, yet they always put on a good show. Those 18,961 fans in Harrison, New Jersey witnessed something that I’m sure they will never forget. Time and time again, Wambach’s teammates were sending her passes, crosses, anything and everything for her to get a hold of. And she came through: four times. Did she take any of the credit? Of course not, it’s all about the team in her eyes.
When the team rushed to Abby, when she sent number 159 into the back of the net, when the team cleared the bench and sprinted to her on field, I couldn’t wipe that grin off my face all night. We all could learn something from Abby, if not in a sporting sense, a personal sense. We could use her as an example of how to hold ourselves, how to be humble and gracious in what you do, and how to be a role model. Making history was, I’m sure, the last thing on her mind when the team pulled up to the Red Bull Arena. But when they pulled away, I’m sure history was on everyone’s mind. The team, thrilled for Abby and what she accomplished. Abby, she was probably thinking ahead to the future, to 2015 and the possibility that one day Alex Morgan could pass her. But, for now, Abby holds the record; she passed her once mentor, and one day Alex may pass her once mentor and the cycle could keep going. For now, let’s enjoy this for Abby. Because you know what, if you ask her how she scored 4 goals to reach 160 in 207 caps, we all know her answer. Two words: my teammates.
This is going to be short because I’m not sure if I can put what happened into words. What we saw tonight was a team that was determined, connected, together, and proud that their leader made history. When the USWNT players ran out onto the field and jumped on top of Abby Wambach, you couldn’t help but smile. For the past few games, they played every single ball to Abby, they wanted her to score; they wanted her to break the record. She did, and she did in style.
At the end of the game, she was quick to put all the credit on the team. Abby is so humble and sometimes I’m sure we all wish that she would credit herself once in a while. That’s probably not going to happen, but those 160 goals weren’t solely because she was in the right place at the right time. She had to work for every single one of them. When asked what she needs to work on in the future, she said one thing, “I want to assist Alex more, so she can break my record.” Looks like she’s not basking in the glory for too long, but it was fantastic while it lasted. 160 goals in 207 games, she has now surpassed her once mentor, Mia Hamm. Two classy, incredible legends, two different players, one quality that will forever be the same: leadership.
Abby is more vocal, she’s dominant in the air; Mia was quieter, with speed on the ground. Together, they formed a tandem that any player would fear. When Mia Hamm was asked to comment on this historic night, she said, “I’m just glad I got to share 158 with her. It was short, but it was fun.”
While Abby may not want the center of attention on her, it will be on her for the near future. She broke the world record; she holds the most international goals in men or women’s soccer. June 20, 2013 was a night to remember, a night where one legend passed another.
Congratulations, Abby Wambach on this historic feat.
Christen Press ate her Wheaties this morning. Chances are we’ll be hearing Press puns until she decides retire. I mean, scoring two goals in your first international cap and being the Woman of the Match is nothing short of amazing, so I’m sure she’ll be expecting it to the point where she will eventually roll her eyes because it’s the 700th time she’s heard it in one day. But, I think her future is incredibly bright, brighter than bright, her future is basically as brighter than a quasar, which if you’re wondering, is the brightest thing that exists in our universe. According to astronomers, it can barbeque a chicken 3,000 light years away. So yeah, her future is brighter than that.
She had two spectacular goals today, one a half volley, and one Abby Wambach style; I don’t need to elaborate on that do I? We all know what Abby Wambach style is by now. Imagine being an opposing team. You have Alex Morgan (hoping she is okay), Abby Wambach, and Christen Press all on the field at the same time. You have to pay attention to the speed of Alex, the aerial dominance of Abby, and now Christen Press. I’d be afraid. The task of defending them takes a starting 11 in itself.
Three players got their first cap today. Julie Johnston, Kristie Mewis, and Christen Press. We also saw Yael Averbuch and learned her shot can break the sound barrier. I felt the crossbar shake all the way from the Midwest. Even though the goalpost is as an inanimate object, it still hurt. Yael made her impact on the field assisting Sydney Leroux’s goal. That’s now 15 goals for her in 28 matches, all in the second half, mind you.
Maybe the most inspiring story of the night was Ali Krieger playing her first 90 minutes since her devastating injury one year ago. She was great this game, tactically she strung together many passes, got up and down the flanks, and it was nice to see her back on the field where hopefully she’ll be for a long time.
The USWNT faces Scotland again on Wednesday. Each team has had a full game to figure out each other’s playing style, so I’m betting the dynamic will be a little different. Unfortunately Alex Morgan’s status is currently unknown, so we’ll see what happens. If she’s okay, she’ll probably play up top with Abby, Christen and if not, Cheney, Abby, and Christen might start together instead. Fingers crossed she’s okay though.
Today was a dawning of a new era. There are new faces and returning faces on the team. I’m sure we’re all looking forwards to the future with the team continuing to impress us (okay, I’m done with the puns). I don’t think there is any way to describe this new journey other than, together. Together, we are stronger. Go USA
It stung. It still was stinging. Every time I heard the sound of the ball hitting the upper left corner of the net, it sent chills down my spine. I looked down, I cringed. I couldn’t help it. There wasn’t a team that I’d rather have win if the U.S. had to lose, but that still didn’t mean it hurt any less. 2011 may have been Japan’s year, but that didn’t mean 2012 wouldn’t be ours.
Redemption, revenge, whatever you want to call it, the USWNT went into 2012 with one goal. Show the world they’re still number one. They buckled down, pressed forward, pushed themselves harder than they ever had before, and went head first in to competition making sure they did whatever it took to make it to the Olympics. 38-0. 38, that’s how many goals they scored. 0 goals, that’s how many goals they allowed in CONCACAF Qualifying.
We look at what all the achievements the USWNT had this year. Gold medal, only one loss, Volvo Cup Champions, undefeated Celebration Tour, 55 goals scored between Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan; it’s easy to forget everything the USWNT had to persevere through.
Ali Krieger tore her MCL and ACL in their first match of qualifying, they went down 2 goals against France in their opening match of London 2012, they lost against Japan early on, there were a lot of questions surrounding the backline, all this pressure was on the team heading into the Olympics. The USWNT has always had a storied program, never falling under second in the FIFA rankings. Everybody for the longest time had always assumed that they would win the gold in either the Olympics or World Cup. But several teams popped up on the radar, France, Japan, Sweden, teams that maybe didn’t always get the attention broke through and were threats. Heading into the Olympics, many people started to question if the USWNT could do it again, for the 3rd time in a row. They all hushed the critics with a 6-0 run scoring 16 goals and only allowing 6 in the Olympics.
Mia Hamm a legend of women’s soccer said it best. “True champions aren’t always the ones that win, but those with the most guts.” That’s exactly what this team had this year, not only on the field, but off. Possibly one of the most influential stories came with Megan Rapinoe. She came out to the world, knowing all eyes would be on her and her teammates in less than a month. She said, “For the record, I’m gay.” Coming out is hard when parts of society don’t fully accept it; in the sports world it’s harder. Sports are still a bit homophobic, but what Megan did was not only brave, but it changed the dynamic of women’s sports. She’s breaking down barriers, she’s proud to be who she is, and that’s something she can always hold on to. She won’t be able to play soccer forever, but she can hold onto the fact that she impacted the world. She is the reason that many young LGBTQ youth athletes are accepting of who they are. If their role model, an athlete representing her country, can come out and be proud, they can too.
2012 also was the berth of a dynamic duo that the game of soccer maybe hasn’t ever seen before. The A-Team. Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan combined for 55 goals. Abby, at age 32, scored 27 goals. Alex, at age 23, scored 28. Alex also assisted 21 goals while Abby assisted 8. Both are nominated for the FIFA Ballon d’Or award, and both deserve it. Abby has been such a leader on the field for the U.S. and Alex is paving her way to become one. There is just no way to stop them. You can push and pull, tackle and slide, but one way or another they’ll get by you. That’s what they showed in 2012. From the very beginning of the year, everyone sensed something special was about to happen. Did anyone expect 55 goals to come out of this duo? No, but it was simply amazing to watch.
Enjoy the journey. Christie Rampone said her New Year’s Resolution at the beginning of 2012 was to enjoy the journey up to the Olympics. Each player embraced their role and won gold together. Sometimes we get caught up in an individual person’s performance and fail to acknowledge those who played a role too. And sometimes we get so caught up in a game that we feel what those players are feeling too. It’s real, raw emotion. It’s how you can tell you’re a true fan. And that’s why I thank this team so much. That’s why I stand in their corner every day. This team is the epitome class. I am so grateful that they continue to take us on the journey with them. They don’t have to let us in on their lives, they don’t have to stay after games for hours signing autographs for thousands of adoring fans, they don’t have to do any of this. But they chose to, not because they feel the need to, like if they don’t all the fans will leave, they do because they want to. And that’s special.
After the 2011 loss, some players said they didn’t know how long it would take to move on, a devastating loss, a tournament they poured their heart into, and it looked as if they might not ever move on; until 2012 came along. We saw a fire, a spark, a light in each player, to somehow keep marching on. From the fields of Old Trafford to Hampden Park and Wembley, the USWNT left all they had on the field. Their proof, a gold medal hanging around their necks.
2012 was a year to remember. Alex Morgan made a name for herself, Sydney Leroux and Megan Rapinoe burst on the scene, and the USWNT finally redeemed themselves. Instead of hanging their heads, they worked, they practiced, they trained, they played, and they won. Thank you to every player for always making us smile, for never giving up, and most importantly, for being the epitome of sportsmanship, class, strength, and for giving us a year to remember. I know I’m looking forwards to a bright future, but if this team has taught me anything it’s to live in the moment, to never give in or give up, dream big, and to always enjoy the journey. No team has as much tribulations or obstacles as the USWNT. Then again, no team has so many players with never ending hope, determination, and perseverance. That’s not something you can coach. That’s not something you can practice. That’s a gift that you’re born with. It’s gift that few people possess. And maybe that’s something a little more valuable, a little more special, than an Olympic gold medal.
The FIFA Ballon d’Or Player of the Year could easily be seen as the most prestigious award a soccer player could receive. The USWNT has four players as nominees—Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Megan Rapinoe. Each player has had one heck of a year.
Carli Lloyd- What a tournament she had. 4 goals to her name including the 2 goals against Japan, she fought her way back from being on the bench to starting and making an impact every time she took the field. Her physical play and ability to strike the ball with pace makes her one of the most lethal midfielders in the game. Scoring both goals in the final and the go ahead goal against France gives her a good chance at the award.
Megan Rapinoe- London 2012 was the tournament of her life. She had a spark about her that we hadn’t seen before. Her first goal against Colombia was one of the best goals of the tournament. The player of the match against Canada, Rapinoe rescued her team twice from the depths of defeat. Her rare Olímpico goal and burner from 18 yards out were the best goals of her career. She played a vital part of the team’s success in the Olympics and should be in the conversation for the winner.
Alex Morgan- Without a doubt Alex has had one of the best years in USWNT history. With 24 goals to her name and tied for first in assists in 2012, she has done it all at age 23. Her London games were nothing short of inspiring, scoring the latest goal in FIFA competition history. Along with Abby Wambach they have formed the most dynamic duo in the game. Her speed and skill has made her one of the best players to grace the game. Not only can she score, but she is an assist machine, with 4 at the Olympics. Without a doubt, she will be at least in the top 3 for consideration of this award.
Abby Wambach- Abby Wambach has also had a great year. She scored in 5 consecutive games in London, tying the Olympic record. She has scored 23 goals in 2012 including the vital penalty kick against Canada. A vocal leader on the field and a role model off, the soccer world has so much respect for Abby. She is only 10 goals away from Mia Hamm’s record. The most dominant player in the air, every team that defends her says all they can do is brace for a collision. 3rd place in last year’s FIFA Ballon d’Or, this could be the year she brings it home.
My Pick: There is no doubt Alex Morgan has had a year to be remembered, but Abby Wambach has had a season nothing short of spectacular. Being only 1 goal behind Alex this year and a constant scorer in the Olympics, tying the record for continuous goals in an Olympic games (5), rest assured Alex will have her time, but I believe Abby Wambach just edges out Alex Morgan for the player of the year. Abby sets high standards for herself and the team while still playing with the grace and respect of a true athlete. She has been nominated for 2 years in a row now, and it’s finally time for Abby Wambach to take home the FIFA Ballon d’Or Women’s Player of the Year award.
It’s not many times you’ll ever see a country be thrown into soccer frenzy after one goal. It’s also not many times it’s women’s soccer. Over the course of the year, we’ve seen exactly that. Yes people, America is in women’s soccer frenzy. After the 2011 Women’s World Cup, the USWNT has been playing in front of sell out crowds all over the US. And the “face” of women’s soccer is now none other than Abby Wambach. The list of Abby’s accomplishments goes on and on. She is co-captain of the USWNT, 2x gold medalist, a FIFA Bronze Boot and Silver Ball recipient, 3rd place for the FIFA Ballon d’Or World Female Soccer Player, US Soccer Female Athlete of the Year, oh, and her dog can ride a skateboard.
The respect she has for her teammates, the game, and even her opponents is something you don’t always see in sports. She was the first one to go over to the Japanese team after they lost to them, she shook their hands, and told them congratulations. Don’t forget this was literally minutes after their heartbreaking loss, something we all knew that she, along with the team, wanted so bad. It is the one thing that has escaped the long list of her accolades once again. But that didn’t matter because she had her eyes set on something else. Gold. She got it in a rematch against Japan. After they won, she went over to Homare Sawa, put her arm around her, and walked with her. Her competitiveness motivates her teammates on the field. She refuses to lose and will literally put her body on the line for her team. Players from all around the world respect her as an athlete and a person.
“She is not just a person of good sportsmanship, but also a really wonderful person, indeed.” -Homare Sawa (FIFA Ballon d’Or Winner, Captain of the FIFA 2011 WWC Champion team, Japan)
“If you want to stop her, you have to push and pull on her jersey before she starts to run. When she moves forward, she’s unstoppable.” -Sonia Bompastor (France Midfielder and former Washington Freedom Teammate)
“I’ve always respected her, on and off the field.” -Christine Sinclair (Captain for Canada WNT)
“Abby scores goals all kinds of ways, she doesn’t just score with her head. That’s why she’s so hard to mark, because she’s dangerous in all kinds of ways.” -Monica Gonzalez (Former Mexico Captain)
“When Abby Wambach is on her game, stopping her is like trying to defend Kobe Bryant.” -Tony Dicicco (Coach of ’99 Women’s World Cup USA Team)
“She hits the floor, she hits the ground, it doesn’t even faze us any more because she’s tough. She might be hurting, but she’s mentally tough. She has more of a lion and a passion inside that nothing will stop her, and she’ll find a way to win. It rubs off on everybody.” -Hope Solo (USWNT Goalkeeper, Golden Glove Winner)
“Abby has just become such a great leader that I respect her so much and trust her guiding me into the right path.” -Alex Morgan (USWNT Forward)
“She’s really the heart of the team. When she’s down, we notice it. When she’s playing at her best, we notice it. Her personality is so huge and important to us.” -Heather O’Reilly (USWNT Midfielder)
What impresses me the most though is her humbleness, down-to-earth attitude, and toughness. I still remember watching that video of her getting her head stapled on the field without anesthesia. Or the time in the ’07 World Cup where she had to leave the game to get her head stitched back up, and apparently started screaming not because she was in pain, but because it was taking too long. Abby Wambach is as tough as it comes, the toughest athlete I’ve ever seen. It’s too many times I see athletes roll around in “pain” after barely being touched. No, not Abby. She’ll take a hit countless times. Sometimes, it seems like she’s on the ground more in the game then she is standing up. During their send off game versus Canada she was on the ground the most out of anyone, once she was body checked into the ground in the penalty box, later she crashed into the goalpost. She just got up and jogged away. She was punched in the face against Colombia. But Abby didn’t approach the player, she didn’t yell at them or retaliate, nope, she scored a goal. That’s because no matter how many times a team thinks they can knock her down, she’ll get up and she’ll get up stronger.
Then comes her humbleness. All the individual accolades she’s won, she never takes credit for. She always says it’s because of her teammates.
“I’ve scored no goals just on my own. Every goal I’ve scored has been because of somebody else on my team: their excellence, their bravery. I’m kind of the end product of the collection of really good vibe and creativity on the field.”
And maybe that’s why so many young girls look up to Abby, and why the sports world looks to her. In her we see a drive to be the best, to not only play well and score for her team, but bring attention to women’s soccer. If that means she has to stay over an hour after a game to sign autographs, she’ll do it. If that means fly across the country for TV appearances, you bet she’s there. She plays her heart out every game, is a leader on the field, and never will shy away from giving all the credit to her teammates. During the Brazil game when they were down one goal, you could hear her over all the screaming, coming from 20,000+ fans, yelling at her teammates to keep pushing on and to keep going. At the end of that game, Brandi Chastain (scored the winning PK in the ’99 World Cup) said, “Abby Wambach was a leader on the field today, and today she led her team to victory.” In the 2012 gold medal game, the tournament where she laid it all on the line for her country and her teammates. We all knew she wanted it so badly, and she got it. We saw her in her interview, almost breaking into tears, the most emotional we have ever seen her. She got the gold medal, it was hung around her neck, and she had the biggest smile on her face. Her eyes had a little shimmer in them and the look she had on her face just read, “Finally. We did it.”
But, when she’s off the field, she always looks to keep the attention on women’s soccer, so the next generation of women’s soccer players have the chance and the same opportunity at being where she is right now. Playing the world’s game, and being the face of women’s soccer. And maybe amidst those girls, will be the next face of women’s soccer. I’m sure we all want Abby to be in Canada come 2015, where she will have one last chance at that World Cup trophy that has alluded her 3 times. We all want her to be on that podium with a gold medal hung around her neck, raising that trophy above her head, and already brilliant and astounding career closing with a fairy tale ending. But Abby Wambach will never be forgotten, her legacy will never go away. I’ve never respected an athlete more than I respect Abby Wambach. I’ve never seen an athlete pour their heart out on the field, play every game with so much spirit and so much determination, who is unselfish and will never hesitate to give up an opportunity to score if their teammate has one too, like Abby Wambach does. Through all the blood, sweat, bumps, bruises, scrapes, scratches, triumphs, and tribulations, she will never give up, she’ll never stop. And that’s why Abby Wambach may be the greatest role model ever, on and off the field. Because no one else is like her.
With the end of the London Olympics, I don’t know what I will do with my life. Just kidding, kind of. I devoted most of my daytime and part of my nights to watching any and all events. While I admit this is the first time I’ve watched professional table tennis and badminton, all the events were cool to watch and it was nice to see athletes representing their country so well. Anyways, I wandered from the original topic.
I want to thank each and every member of the USWNT for one heck of a tournament. 6-0, a gold medal, I can’t think of a better team to root for. There really is not a more down to earth, real, funny, entertaining, amazing team. Each member has a great personality off the field, and on the field, they never leave anybody behind. They always win, together.
When they’re in a different country playing, I don’t know if they truly know how captivating they are. For the final, against Japan, they set a new record for most views of a NBC broadcast. It’s because they truly are the “girls next door”. I know, that’s an extremely cliche term, but they are just like you and I. They don’t act like they are better than everyone else. They aren’t multi-million dollar megastars that need their PA to pick them up a double espresso shot soy latte with half 1% milk and half skim milk that’s 102 degrees and is exactly 10.3 ounces. Is that a real drink? I don’t think so, I don’t drink coffee so I have no idea. Once again, straying from the topic. They have the opportunity that very few get, they’re representing their country. They do it with class, grace, and humbleness.
What this team does best is never give up. They always fight until the end and that’s something I hope every young athlete sees. They are the best example of why you should never hold your head down, to keep going and keep trying until you hear the ending whistle, that when things get hard those are the moments that make or break a great athlete, to always be gracious in defeat or in victory. No is not an answer for this team, stubbornness, whatever you want to call it, this is one of the rare circumstances of if they’re down by a goal and down time on the clock, to keep believing and somehow, someway, they will pull through.
I can’t say it enough. I can’t say how lucky we are to have them representing us, inspiring the next generation of athletes to be where they are, to better women’s sports, to set a good example, to be who they are and not who anyone wants them to be. This team will have it’s critics, the ones who will question and doubt every thing they do. They prove them wrong every time they step on the field. Us, the fans, feel like we’re part of the team. We feel happy when they’re happy, sad when they’re sad, they let us into their lives on the road whether it’s through social networking or through videos (I’m referencing the Party in the USA video by the way) and we’ve got their backs just like they have ours.
The most important thing they do however is have fun. Life isn’t too serious for any of them. They know that playing soccer won’t last forever, so they enjoy it while they have the opportunity. They live life to the fullest, not every person has the opportunity to do what they love while traveling the country with 18 or 20 other people who end up being your family away from your family. That is life of a professional athlete, but unlike some, they enjoy every minute of it with each other.
We laugh with this team, we cry with this team, we get up at 4 am to watch them play, we stay up until 3am watching re-runs of their games. That says something. It says that this team is special. You could say that they are ordinary people who do something extraordinary. But they’re not ordinary people. They are extraordinary people doing something unbelievable. Captivating a nation and the world with their fight on the field and personalities off the field. So forget the double espresso soy latte at exactly 10.3 ounces and 102 degrees, they’ve got a gold medal and millions of people behind them every game. That’s definitely not ordinary, that’s extraordinary.