Abby Wambach is one of the most influential women’s soccer players to ever play the game. Listed by Time Magazine[i] as one of the 100 most influential people in 2015. Former US Women’s National Team star forward Mia Hamm calls Wambach “fearless,” “a star” and “a role model for young fans.” But what did Time see in Wambach in the year she retired? Why does Mia Hamm compliment her so readily? In this post, we consider Abby Wambach as a legend.
As a patriot, an Olympian and a goal scorer, they must have seen Wambach from one angle as the plain-old producer that she is. She gets results, and her widely known accolades speak for themselves: six-time U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year, two-time Olympic gold medalist, 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year, 2011 ESPY Award winner for Best Play, 2011 AP Female Athlete of the Year and not least of all 2015 World Cup champion, she’s the real deal. For her sport, there has been nobody better, certainly not in goal scoring where she holds the most international goals scored of any female and male player with 184 goals scored for the American squad. What enables this level of production? Wambach did not have the same godly quickness of Messi or the flashy tricks Brazilians practice from birth during her career, but her distinctly American presence—direct and physical—on the pitch coupled with a bird’s eye view understanding of the ball’s position make her just as much a threat to defenses playing any softer of a game. Working with midfielders like Megan Rapinoe and captain Carli Lloyd, Wambach was able to make goals like the 122’ goal against Brazil in the 2011 World Cup not rare moments but routine plays in the course of her time on the national team.[ii]
As a leader, Wambach spent time trying to change society’s perceptions of women’s soccer. With her play style, she was always aggressive in games, and the diving headers that define her video archives of scoring attempts and successes are certainly trademark Wambach moves.[iii] Through the years, commentators, regular viewers and soccer analysts have all compared her style to that of the men’s game. But during last summer’s World Cup, Wambach said, “I know women’s sports will have made it when we start talking about ‘playing like a girl’ and it’s a compliment.”[iv] Loud and clear, beyond the fame of her success and uniqueness of her style of play in the women’s game, Abby recognizes how society views women’s soccer and knows how to role model for that view to change.
This is not to say that everybody loves Abby Wambach. Many would disagree with her that the U.S. men’s team coach Jurgen Klinsmann should be fired for adding “a bunch of … foreign guys” to the men’s national team roster.[v] In 2012, Wambach was called whiny by some for counting out loud the seconds the Canadian goalkeeper held the ball in the London Olympics semifinal, drawing a time-wasting call that gave her team the chance for an equalizing goal and subsequent victory.[vi] But underlying these small controversies is clearly the character of a woman who cares about her country and sport and who looks to create opportunities for her team and dominate the pitch. And on the surface of her game and persona is a legend that US WMNT fans will not soon forget.
[i] Hamm, Mia. “The 100 Most Influential People: Abby Wambach.” Time Magazine. 16 April 2015. <http://time.com/3823298/abby-wambach-2015-time-100/>.
[ii] “Megan Rapinoe to Abby Wambach goal in 122’ (USA vs. Brazil, 2011 Women’s World Cup).” Youtube. 10 July 2011. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytB17mKgrww>.
[iii] “100 Abby Goals.” Youtube. 3 September 2013. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCar99nTSxA>.
[iv] O’Neill, Tracy. “Abby Wambach’s Big Goals: Win the World Cup, Change FIFA Forever.” Rolling Stone. 4 June 2015. <http://www.rollingstone.com/sports/features/abby-wambachs-big-goals-win-the-world-cup-change-fifa-forever-20150604>.
[v] “Abby Wambach blasts Jurgen Klinsmann for use of ‘foreign guys.’” ESPNW. 16 December 2015. <http://espn.go.com/espnw/news-commentary/article/14381681/abby-wambach-blasts-jurgen-klinsmann-use-foreign-guys>.
[vi] Brady, Rachel. “Abby Wambach has no regrets over Olympic controversy.” The Globe and Mail. 31 May 2015. <http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/soccer/american-wambach-has-no-regrets-over-olympic-controversy/article12300830/?page=all>.