After 12 years of battling at the international level for the United States of America, Abby Wambach has the opportunity to solidify her legend on Sunday. In her first Women's World Cup Final, Abby will lead the American offense in attempting to win their first World Cup since hosting in 1999.
I'm sure by now you've seen Abby's goal against Brazil in the quarterfinals. If you haven't seen it yet, I'll just assume that you've been living under a rock. The goal put Abby's name on the lips of Americans. Just like Landon Donovan's last effort goal against Algeria last summer in South Africa, Abby's goal has launched the event entirely into the pop culture realm. She, along with other players like Hope Solo, went from only brief appearances on ESPN's Sportscenter to morning appearances on ABC's Good Morning America. The Women's World Cup was back in the consciousness of mainstream America for the first time since 1999.
Wait. Did I say 1999? I meant 2007. Yeah, you remember what happened in 2007.
Women's international soccer has two major events: the Women's World Cup and the Summer Olympics. Abby's first introduction was the 2003 Women's World Cup. She was part of the squad that saw the United States lose out 3-0 to eventual champions Germany in the semifinals. Abby and the squad rebounded in Athens the next year. In the Olympic Final against Brazil, Abby rose up to head home a Kristine Lilly corner in extra time to win the gold medal for the United States. The legend begins.
Abby had a great World Cup 2007 scoring 6 goals. The USA did not. The Americans were embarrassed in the semifinals 4-0 by Brazil in the infamous incident linked above. Another semifinal exit for the United States. Another World Cup Final escaping them at the final hurdle.
The USA was back the next season ready to roll to Beijing and the 2008 Summer Olympics. The United States wanted revenge. They wanted... needed that gold medal. The United States Soccer Federations scheduled one final friendly before the Olympics were to begin. It being against Brazil. Abby and Brazilian defender Andréia Rosa went in for a tackle and the unthinkable happened. Abby didn't get off the ground. She was in immense pain. The evaluation wasn't good. Just days before they were to kick the first ball in Beijing, Abby Wambach had broken the tibia and fibula in her left leg. The USA would fight on in the Olympics and got their revenge on Brazil in the final. Gold medalists again!
While the Olympics were great to win, the Americans wanted the World Cup. Now age 31, Wambach is one of the veterans on the squad leading the team for Germany 2011. When she started she was that brash, young goal scoring machine. Now she's the brash, veteran goal scoring machine. Abby struggled in the first two games against North Korea and Colombia. There's no hiding that. It's also not helping her that so far coach Pia Sundhage has paired her with the ineffectual Amy Rodriguez. She was able to get a goal against Sweden in the last group game that the Americans lost. While many would term it a lucky goal (Okay, the ball *did* bounce off her shoulder and go in the net.), it showed the penchant Abby has had over the years for getting into the perfect position. The goal against Brazil showed that even after 122 minutes of grueling soccer, with half of it coming a player down, Abby can still out-jump any other player on the pitch.
After the dramatic victory over Brazil, there was very big fear among the soccer community that the team would have a let down against France in the semifinals. As one of three players from the previous semifinal defeats in 2003 and 2007, the thought of not getting the chance to play in the Final had to be creeping in the back of Abby's mind. In the 79th minute when the United States had been struggling throughout the match, it just seemed natural that Abby was there to pull them through. She rose up and headed the ball into the net and the celebrations ensued. Finally, after 12 long years, the United States Women's National Team was going back to the World Cup Final.
While the Japanese are one of the most skillful teams in the world, it's no surprise that the USA will be the favorites going into the final on Sunday afternoon. The game presents the perfect opportunity for the 31 year old Wambach to finally cement her legacy on the USA Women's National Team program. With such a vast height advantage and arguably the greatest header of the ball that the women's game has ever seen, Abby is going to have more than her fair share of opportunities to score. If she is able to score a goal or two in the Final and the USA win, Abby Wambach will join the group of immortalized legends in USA Women's Soccer. A place that she so rightly deserves.