Published July 12, 2012
GENEVA (AP) – Abby Wambach has been called unstoppable by opponents and indispensable by teammates. She has scored some of the most important goals in recent US Women's Soccer history and her exploits have made her one of the most famous female athletes in America.
For all her successes and accolades, Wambach is desperate to win Olympic gold this summer. A broken leg forced her to miss the 2008 Olympics and the scar left behind by last year's World Cup final disappointment is still fresh in her mind. Plus, the clock is ticking on one of the most accomplished careers in women's soccer history.
"With my history (after being injured before the 2008 Olympics), and with the recent World Cup coming so close, I think all of us are really motivated to win gold," Wambach told FOX Soccer . "It gives me more motivation because I wasn't part of the last Olympics, and let's face it. You don't know how many more chances like these you will have in your career."
As difficult as it may be to imagine to those who have watched her bulldoze through opposing defenses and dominate the game for almost a decade, Wambach could very well play her final major tournament as a central figure, marquee attraction, and dominating force.
Wambach has compiled 138 career national team goals, second only to Mia Hamm. As much as she is still scoring goals with regularity, Wambach will be 35-years-old when the 2015 World Cup arrives. That will be more than a decade after she scored the gold-medal winning goal in the 2004 Olympic final against Brazil. With talented young strikers coming up quickly through the national team ranks, and with her physical style taking a noticeable toll on her body, there is no guarantee Wambach will be taking up her customary spot at the head of the US attack in three years.
Wambach isn't spending too much time thinking about her career's mortality, or about these Olympics being a last hurrah. She's having too much fun enjoying the limelight and notoriety she earned after last summer's World Cup heroics. The former Florida Gator is taking full advantage of her increased visibility, appearing in national commercials these days. Just this week, Wambach featured in ESPN the Magazine's Body Issue, a pictorial of top athletes in the nude. Yes, you can say she's coming out of her shell just in time to star at this summer's Olympics.
What those unfamiliar with Wambach will find is an engaging personality, an intelligent athlete whose intellect belies her physical style of play. She is equal parts thinker and bruiser; an unconventional individual who has become a role model for the way she embraces being herself.
On the field, Wambach remains the most dominating physical force in women's soccer. Even with the wear and tear weighing down on her chiseled 5-foot-11 frame, Wambach keeps on battling through defenders who simply cannot deal with her when she is provided with service.
For US Women's head coach Pia Sundhage, Wambach remains the focal point of the attack. Even though Alex Morgan is looking like she's ready to challenge for the "World Player of the Year" label at the age of 23, Sundhage still reveres Wambach's unmatched physicality and aerial dominance.
"Being able to play in front of, and behind the backline is key in these Olympics," Sundhage told FOX Soccer. "We need to find a rhythm, and in the attack, in order to make Abby look good, we need to work on crosses to give us a real chance.
"We know that if we get her the ball in good positions that Abby will do the rest."
While some older players might feel threatened by a new generation of players, Wambach seems rejuvenated by the new faces. She has developed a good friendship with Sydney Leroux - the youngest player on the team and a potential heir to her starting forward spot - and speaks volumes about what the infusion of skilled midfielders into the US lineup can mean for the team.
"Flair, we're talking about flair," Wambach said when asked about the team's infusion of skilled youth. "Sydney and Alex are speedy forwards. Megan Rapinoe has been on the team but you can still consider her a younger player, and Lauren Cheney, they're players that come in and bring a different style and a very unpredictable way of playing.
"It's good for us old ladies because it lets us do what we do in the predictable world and let them create and do the fun things that a lot of people enjoy watching."
The results in recent months have been encouraging. The US team is scoring goals in bunches and the Wambach-Morgan forward tandem looks nearly unstoppable. Wambach looks poised for a huge Olympic tournament, both on and off the field.
"This team is by far the most deepest team we've ever had," Wambach said. "Pia has really pushed us the past couple of camps, which have been grueling, but this is the kind of thing that, in an Olympic final you remember days like those, and getting through them, and coming out stronger on the other side."
After enduring her injury setback in 2008, and experiencing the World Cup final disappointment of 2011, Wambach has more than enough motivation to help the United States capture its third straight Olympic gold medal. She also has more than enough left in the tank to make these Olympics the perfect adieu from a brilliant career.