Julio Cortez/Associated Press
Julio Cortez/Associated Press
HARRISON, N.J. – Replacing Mia Hamm as the all-time leading goal scorer for the United States women’s soccer team can’t happen soon enough for Abby Wambach.
Thursday against South Korea at Red Bull Arena would be just fine for the 33-year-old Rochester, N.Y., native. Anything to get the record out of the way.
While she might be the most recognized and honored player on the current roster, Wambach would rather live outside the spotlight. That’s been fairly impossible this year with most U.S. soccer fans watching her assault on Hamm’s record of 158 tallies for the national team.
“When I think back to when I first got on this team and how many goals I’ve scored, it’s crazy,” said Wambach, who moved to within two of tying the record with a goal in Saturday’s 4-1 win over South Korea in Foxborough, Mass. “It’s a crazy number of goals. But I’ve had so much fun and scored goals in all kinds of ways. The truth is the sooner I can get over with this and move and look toward 2015, the better.”
Wambach said that’s the same way Hamm feels.
“She is for helping the game grow and me breaking the record means the game has grown, even in the time that she has not been playing,” Wambach said. “Ultimately, and I know her very well, she would say that is more important than the record. She knows she almost single-handedly put female sports on the map.
“She was the face – and still is in large part – in terms of women’s sports. I couldn’t be more honored than to be in this position to break a record that she set so long ago and that no one thought would be broken.”
Defender Christie Rampone said Wambach is tough to guard, and it goes beyond her being 5-foot-11 and strong. The 37-year-old – the oldest player on the U.S. roster – said Wambach is not only faster than most think, she is smart and makes players around her better.
Wambach also knows how to seize the moment, Rampone said. She recalled her 120th minute tally against Brazil on a header in the semifinals of the last World Cup that allowed the U.S. to tie the game and win on penalty kicks.
“The timing,” Rampone said. “She only had so much space, the pressure at the end of the game. That’s just Abby. That’s who she is. She comes up in big times, big situations.
“She loves the pressure. She is a gamer.”
Midfielder Carli Lloyd said Wambach is a winner, who will throw her body in every direction, risk having stitches or getting kicked just to win or get a ball back.
“When she is in peak form, there is no stopping her,” Lloyd said. “She is stronger than anybody. She can hold off anybody. She is one of the best in the world in heading, but she also scores some great goals with her foot as well. I know that she wants nothing more than to win.”
Alex Morgan, who is the heir-apparent to Wambach on the scoring front, said people never notice how much attention Wambach gets from opponents.
“She takes a beating the whole game,” said Morgan, who shares the team lead with six goals this year, two more than Wambach. “More people are kicking at her heels, her ankles and taking her down, and half of those times she doesn’t get the calls – calls that I would get. I respect her so much for being prepared every game to be taken down and know she isn’t going to get a call.”
Wambach would rather talk about her teammates.
“I have just been lucky,” she said. “I’ve only had a few injuries, and my teammates have put me in positions to score goals. On every single one of my goals I am sure there is an assist or something happened that led into the goal that I had nothing to do with. It says a lot about how good the teams are that I played on.”
Goaltender Hope Solo said Wambach deserves the attention she is getting.
“All of us as athletes, whether we want to admit it or not, like to break records,” Solo said. “We want to leave our mark on the game. When we retire, we want to be remembered. I don’t care what anybody says, that’s what we all want. Records are meant to be broken. I think Abby will break it, and I think she should be gunning for it.
“As the years have gone on, Abby has gotten, better and better and better.”
Wambach had an interesting thought about the record.
“I’m sure we’ll be having the same conversation in 10 years,” she said. “About Alex Morgan.”
Her time will come. For now, the focus is on Wambach.