Abby Wambach, the U.S. Women’s National Team superstar and leading scorer in international soccer history, recently announced that she will retire at the end of the year. Long-time teammates Christie Rampone and Megan Rapinoe wrote about what they’ll remember most about Abby.
Abby was down. I ran over to her.
“I just broke my tib and fib,” Abby said, matter-of-factly. She looked up at me with a weird mix of intensity and calm.
“Tell Pia I need a sub.”
Pia was our coach at the time. I was the team captain. But Abby was the field general. Always was.
With Abby, there were no tears. No grimacing. She wasn’t even out of breath.
We were playing Brazil, right before the ’08 Olympics, and Abby wasn’t getting up. She’d just collided with a Brazilian defender at midfield. She did that a lot, but usually she got right back up. This time she stayed down and I knew something was wrong.
Think about this: seconds earlier, she broke her leg. And now she was already diagnosing herself. (She was right on the money, the doctors later confirmed.) She’d done this before: the broken toe, the torn quad … she always knew what was going on with herself, before the medical staff even did. Abby was so in tune with herself as an athlete.
That wasn’t even the most “Abby” part of the story. After they put her in an ambulance, she started answering phone calls.
From the moving ambulance. With the broken leg.
I think people thought they would get her voicemail, but she was picking up every call. That was Abby: she didn’t want anyone to worry about her.
The first call she made in the ambulance was to a player — also a forward — who hadn’t made the roster at training camp a few weeks before.
“I’m hurt,” she told the player. “Start training. We need you to fill my spot.”
That was Abby, too: Even at the worst times, she was always thinking about the game, thinking about the team, thinking about how to make us the best we could be. With Abby, there was never a poor me philosophy. She just didn’t do negativity.
Everyone knows she was a genius at heading the ball. Any ball in the air, she was getting there first. She was so good at setting the defender way before the play began. Once Abby was in the box, it was Christmas for her.
But Abby’s “it” factor was her focus. She had a laser-like focus about finding the ball and getting to it at the right time. I’ve never seen anything like it. The Brazil goal at the 2011 World Cup is what defines her. If you re-watch the play, and you should because it’s really amazing, she had such a small window to score. I don’t know any other player in the world who could make that play. Under that pressure, with seconds left, and such a small window, she found a way to head in an impossible ball.
Let me back up for a second and zoom out. Sometimes when an athlete retires, it’s easy to say nice things about them. It’s easy to inflate their legacy. With Abby, there’s no wiggle room: Abby is the best player I’ve ever played with. She’s the toughest competitor I’ve ever played against. But more than that, Abby defined U.S. Soccer. She was U.S. Soccer for over a decade.
I’ll leave you with one more story about Abby. When I think of Abby, I actually first think of my kids, my two little girls. She was always their favorite. She was the second mom to them on the road.
There’s this whistle that Abby can do. It’s her thing. It doesn’t sound like any other whistle. My girls would be playing in our hotel room or in the locker room and they’d hear Abby’s whistle — and they’d go running in her direction. Invariably, she would give them a big hug and ask them a million questions.
That’s how I feel right now. Abby’s career is that beautiful whistle. I want to go give her a hug. Everyone in U.S. Soccer does.
We’ll miss you, Abby. Congratulations on an epic career.
Your friend and teammate,
Clutch. That’s what I will always remember about Abby Wambach. She was the most clutch performer I have ever seen.
There’s something in Abby that is not just the product of hard work and determination and technical skill. It goes beyond that. There’s something about the way Abby played that just … was. There was something intangible. Untrainable. Unteachable.
I know some people roll their eyes at the word “intangible.” They want every athlete to be broken down into perfect metrics: Here’s how fast she can run, here’s how high she can jump, here’s how hard she can kick a ball. Maybe those are good measurements of a player during a nice, friendly training session on a sunny day.
But when you’re down by a goal in a World Cup and you look at the clock ticking away in the final minutes, a lot of players simply shrink. They hide. That’s the time when you need an Abby Wambach.
The other thing I’ll remember about Abby is the blood. Abby was always getting stitches. Always. Part of her brilliance was her willingness and desire to sacrifice her body and demand everything in the biggest moment. When she got on the end of my cross to head home the equalizer in the dying seconds against Brazil at the 2011 World Cup, it created the momentum and the belief that we carried over to 2015.
Let me tell you something about that header. The keeper was rushing out to punch the ball away. Her fists were flying right at Abby’s head. A lot of players who would have made it seem like they were going all-out for that ball, but they wouldn’t have committed to that extra inch. They wouldn’t have put their head through the ball, even if it meant getting punched in the face.
Abby didn’t flinch. She put herself in harm’s way for us, for America. She destroyed the ball. There’s a fearless spirit that is ingrained in American women’s soccer that we all owe to Abby Wambach. We all learned it from her.
Congrats on an incredible career, Abby. I’ll never forget those pubs crawls and beach volleyball games during my first residency with the USWNT in Los Angeles. You’re the G.O.A.T. of goal scoring. You went out a world champion. You’re simply a bad ass.