She’ll retire as women’s international soccer’s all-time leading scorer, but unlike the regret fans expressed as teammate Lauren Holiday brought her career to an end on Sunday in Orlando, Abby Wambach, long the figurehead of the U.S. women’s national team, faces a more mixed response with her announcement. According to today’s release from U.S. Soccer, the 35-year-old will retire from soccer at the end of 2015, concluding a year of uncertainty about her place with the women’s national team.
From U.S. Soccer:
Abby Wambach, the leading scorer in the history of international soccer and one of the world’s all-time greatest players, has announced her retirement.
Wambach, 35, will end a spectacular 15-year international career that began in September of 2001 at the age of 21 when she debuted against Germany …
Wambach will be with the team for all four of its December matches, but her final game for the USA will come on Dec. 16 against China PR in New Orleans …
Wambach’s resume is beyond reproach. With 252 international appearances, 184 goals, a World Cup and two Olympic gold medals, the Rochester-born forward is as accomplished as any soccer player the United States has ever produced. In an exposure vacuum that remained after the U.S.’s famed “99ers” faded from the competition scene, Wambach became the face of U.S. women’s soccer, and through her recent place at the front of issues such as gay rights and the equality battle that emanated around the 2015 World Cup, Wambach exhibited a leadership that transcended her role on the field.
U.S. head coach Jill Ellis:
“Abby is a player who has transcended our sport and her legacy as one of the world’s greatest players is set forever. What she has done for women’s soccer and women’s sports overall with her amazing talents on the field and her personality off it has been inspiring to watch. I am just extremely happy that she could end her career with that elusive World Cup title and go out on top, right where she deserves to be.”
But Wambach’s role on the field had become a point of uncertainty. Before the 2015 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season, Wambach announced she would not play club soccer in preparation for the World Cup. In the lead up to that tournament, Wambach brought on controversy by calling her teammates “scared” and questioning the motives of a referee in Canada. Come the end of the competition, her role had been reduced to late match cameos, with her ineffectiveness at the start of the tournament costing her a starting spot.
In the wake of Canada, Wambach’s future had remained an open question. Participating in the U.S.’s Victory Tour, Wambach left it unclear whether she’d return to the NWSL or seek a spot at next summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. With roster sizes reduced from 23 to 18 between the two back-to-back major tournaments, Wambach’s potential inclusion was already a point of debate.
With today’s announcement, however, that debate recedes, and fans can again focus on Wambach’s positive contributions. As `99er Mia Hamm faded from the public eye, and the controversy surrounding Hope Solo at the 2007 World Cup became the most notable thing about the U.S. program, Wambach’s dominance on the field provided a much-needed focal point for the program’s public face. That focal point became absurd at times, as it did in the relentless “#ChasingMia” promotions as Wambach sought the all-time scoring record, but the path she took to that point was a singular one. While a generation of stars faded away before a true second coming could emerge, Abby Wambach was U.S. women’s soccer.
“After much deliberation and talking with my friends, family, teammates and our coaching staff, I’ve decided to finally bring my soccer career to an end. While we still have more work to do for women’s soccer, after bringing the World Cup back to the United States this summer, I’m feeling extremely optimistic about the future of our sport. It’s been an amazing, wonderful ride and I can’t wait to see what the next chapter of my life brings.”
On Dec. 16 in New Orleans, when the United States faces China, Wambach’s path finally comes to an end. She will not be at the Olympics or in the NWSL in 2016, but after 15 years with the national team, 14 in professional soccer, three different club teams and the most enviable statistical record in soccer history, there was nothing another year could accomplish.
Two months from now, Wambach will leave all the glory and controversies behind and get the sendoff she deserves. And with it, the most prolific striker the game has ever known will say goodbye to her sport.
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