HARRISON, N.J. – The torch has been passed.
Mia Hamm no longer holds the world record for international goals, whether by a woman or a man. On Thursday night, Abby Wambach scored four first-half goals in a friendly against a putrid South Korean side to push her career tally in international competition to 160, passing Hamm's 158.
On a balmy night at Red Bull Arena, 18,961 fans - seemingly all shrieking girls whose collective squeal could rip an elephant's ear drum - saw Wambach cushion a 10th minute Lauren Cheney cutback, hold off her defender, turn and slice her shot past Kim Jungmi from up close to make it 1-0.
Not a minute later, the 33-year-old Rochester native undertook a clear run on goal and galloped alone for some 30 yards and ripped her finish to the low left corner. Kim parried with a kick-save however. A 14th-minute whack from deep was deflected softly into Kim's hands.
But Wambach would not be denied.
Just five minutes later, another Cheney run to the back line culminated in a precise chip onto Wambach's lethal forehead, with which she ably redirected the ball into the back of the net. That put her on equal footing with Hamm, who tweeted out her approval.
This is fun @AbbyWambach ! Get it done and enjoy your moment. We are watching with anticipation .
-- Mia Hamm (@MiaHamm) June 21, 2013 Wambach had a full 70 minutes remaining to own the record outright. She wouldn't need anywhere near that long.
In the 29th minute, it was Megan Rapinoe's turn to facilitate Wambach's history-making. She deposited her corner onto Wambach's towering head, who snapped it into the twine a third time.
That's when the pandemonium erupted. Wambach was instantly buried by her teammates. The American bench cleared. The ball was removed from the run of play, for safekeeping as an historic artifact. And Wambach, visibly moved by the moment, waved at her family in its luxury box.
The former record holder sent another tweet.
Congratulations @AbbyWambach . So proud of you, my friend. You are a warrior and true champion. Enjoy this.
-- Mia Hamm (@MiaHamm) June 21, 2013 Before halftime had even been whistled, Wambach struck home another goal, as Alex Morgan flipped her the assist for an easy tap-in.
And so Wambach arrived at 160.
Strolling into the tunnel for halftime, she looked in no mood to slow up.
Indeed, she threw her head at every high ball near her in the second half, as she always had, as she probably will for as long as she plays. This was the very instinct that had made her the world's most prolific goal scorer in international soccer history, and it wasn't going to fade now.
But before she had a chance to score the 161st, she was substituted off to thunderous applause and cheers in the 58th minute. She handed her captain's armband to Heather O'Reilly and exchanged hugs with her teammates.
As she sauntered off, the chant was clearly audible: Ab-by Wam-bach! Ab-by Wam-bach! Ab-by Wam-bach!
Wambach embraced every coach and teammate on the bench. And then she set off for her cooling-down jog. Because Wambach isn't done yet.
Before the game was even over, Hamm, who had been watching from home, released a statement. "I'm just so proud of her," she said. "From being her teammate early in her career, I know all she ever wanted to do was win and she continues to do that. I'm just glad I got to share 158 with her. It was short, but it was fun."
Abby Wambach became the world's most prolific goal scorer in international soccer history (Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images).
With Wambach out of the game, the mood turned festive. The crowd got heavy into the Mexican Wave. The match was now merely the backdrop to one very special player's very special night.
And while those around her celebrated, Wambach sat at the end of the bench, rooting for her teammates to score more goals. They got one more, to make the final score 5-0. Cheney deservedly got to head in the last one.
After the game, Sydney Leroux and Meghan Klingenberg showered Wambach with the icy remainder of the team's water cooler. And then the drenched star with the short haircut and frightfully blue eyes gripped her family tight.
"A fairytale night," said head coach Tom Sermanni. "Couldn't have done it any better. She was really determined tonight to go out and break that record and she did it in great style."
Rapinoe, like many teammates, was somewhat overwhelmed by the occasion. "I can't even believe it," she said. "I didn't think she was going to have a hat trick tonight, to be honest. Wow. But to do to it sort of close to home and with her family here - unbelievable."
"Other than being freezing from the Gatorade shower, it was special," Wambach said by the side of the field, as the screech crescendoed just a few feet away in the stands. "My family was here. Great crowd. Great team performance. It was surreal when it was happening. I thought when I missed the break-away that maybe it wasn't going to happen. But my teammates were relentless in getting me into those positions."
Her momentous achievement wasn't missed by the United States President Barack Obama either.
Congratulations @AbbyWambach , the greatest goal scorer in the history of women's soccer--you've made your country proud. #ChasingAbby
-- Barack Obama (@BarackObama) June 21, 2013