Fresh off breaking the goal scoring record held by Mia Hamm, U.S. Women’s National team forward and current FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Abby Wambach talks to Glenn Davis about her legendary feat, the NWSL, the USWNT, and more.
GD: Let’s first talk about, simply, breaking the women’s goal scoring record. No woman has scored more goals for the U.S. Women’s National Team than you. What were the sort of feelings and emotions after it happened?
AW: That’s a great question because it’s kind of hard to explain, it was such a crazy night. You don’t expect to have it, not only be done but to do it in that fashion. You can just see with my teammates they were really trying to get me the ball as much as they possibly could and you know, when they’re pumping the ball into the box I’m going to try to do the best I can to get on the end of it! It was a special night, my family was there and I couldn’t have asked for better participation and more help from my teammates and I think it was fitting that I had a couple with my head, and a couple with my feet. I don’t know, it’s hard to explain the exact emotions, relief too, I’m glad that it’s over with so I can move on and move forward with the dreams and the goals you can expect from the national team. So moving forward is what I’m into now.
GD: Yeah, I’ve got to think that it’s hard to process some of these things sometimes. Did you think back to your first goal in San Jose when you came on, I think it was against Finland?
AW: Yeah, it’s been a long career. People ask me, “What is it like to score that many goals?” and I’m like “It just means that I have had a really long career”. You know, I’ve really had a lot of help, I’m not scoring any of those goals myself. I started off with the national team getting balls pumped into me from Mia [Hamm] and Kristine [Lilly], you know, people who are going down in the history books as legends and now, I’ve got some young players who are making a name for themselves, of course, I think Alex Morgan has a lot to do with kind of my resurgence in the way that I have played over the last few years. She’s a great partner to have up top and a great friend to have off the field to deal with all of the pressure that comes along with being the face of the team. I think Alex is poised to be that next face and she’s doing a fantastic job at it.
GD: You know, that’s a pretty big statement. When you were describing to me the fact that you have all these teammates, it’s almost like they were invested in you as well, and I know that they are, but there’s something pretty special about that in life to have that many people pulling for you and trying to help you accomplish it.
AW: Well, you know what, I’m a team-first mentality kind of person no matter what and I think that it was fitting that it kind of happened the way that it did that night and yeah, my teammates. You know the reason why I play this sport, I’m not playing an individual sport, I need my teammates as much as they need me. I think that’s why team sports are so special and I think that’s why it is way more difficult to win championships because everybody has to be firing on all cylinders in order to accomplish whatever goals you set as a team. I’m just lucky to have really amazing players that have surrounded me throughout my career to give me the opportunity to score these goals.
GD: It’s also a fascinating career because you’ve been in two phases of this women’s team. You mentioned the Kristine Lilly’s and the Julie Foudy’s and now you’re phasing into this new generation of players like the Alex Morgan’s of the world, the Sydney Leroux’s and it’s a fascinating career because there are not that many who bridge that gap.
AW: Well, and that’s the challenge of all the older players now. You know, we want to have people enjoy watching our team play and we’ve wanted that all along and as Americans go, they enjoy winning teams and championship teams. I think, I’ve had the kind of career that has felt the impact on both sides of that. After Mia and them retired, it was hard for us to kind of gain any popularity without winning. We found that out in 2008 when the team went to China and won and then of course in 2012 this last year in London. It was a special event, not only because, we work hard every single day whether we win or lose but the recent reward of the hard work put in is something super special. We hope that, as an older players-leadership group we instill that winning mentality into those younger players so that when we do retire, we’re leaving the team in good hands and we hope that they can keep on winning for as long as they can.
GD: Abby, do you think that the subtle points of the game, you know I hear you saying ‘winning’ and obviously that’s a big piece of it to Americans, but do you think the subtleties of the game in the future will become more revered by the fan? Good play in tight areas, just the simplicity to turn quickly on a defender and face them, the accuracy of clipping a ball over 25 yards, beating someone off the dribble, do you think that kind of stuff will become more important to people in the future?
AW: Yeah and I think that it is becoming more important. The game has evolved, even in the time that I’ve played it and I think that in 10 years it’s going to evolve even more. Especially with the women’s game, it’s evolving. The game is getting faster, it’s getting more physical, and the technique and the ability to pull off certain moves in important moments is what changes games. We’ve got players in those positions that can do that and who do it in practice on a daily basis and you have to be able to transfer that practice phase to doing it in a game and into doing it in a World Cup final. You know, those are the moments that create championship teams and I think our team has done a great job of that. Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath, these are women who do things that not many women can do with a ball and that’s a testament to the kind of practice and belief that they have in the game and it’s not easy, you know, your coach wants you to play the game in one way and yeah, it’s just not an easy thing. So yeah, the movement of the game is moving forward and I’m in a position to be able to feel good about what I’ve done personally but what this team has done to bring soccer back and the women’s game over the last couple of years is something I’m very proud of.
GD: The National Women’s Soccer League, your impressions so far? You play for the Western New York Flash. Obviously there have been some real big moments for this league in it’s first year.
AW: It’s been awesome! A great summer so far. I’m not gonna say that it hasn’t been without it’s challenges, you know, going from the national team to club level team. You definitely see a difference, not only in the styles of play but in the abilities of the team. We are still just trying to get to know each other and I’m proud to be apart of this league. It’s not easy, for a lot of different reasons, you know, because I don’t have Megan Rapinoe pumping balls into me on a consistent basis, but it’s a challenge and it’s something that we all have to learn how to understand and deal with and try to make it as great as we have it in the national team, we want to make this league great.
GD: Yeah, has that tested your patience and maybe has that made you look at yourself as a player, now ‘Here I am, Abby, and I’m on the Western New York Flash and things have to change with the way I interact with my teammates, the way I play’ I don’t know.
AW: Yeah well it’s a challenge, you know, every team has it’s different challenges, whether it be a coach, different teammates, even just the way you travel, you know, it’s just a club level team, it’s not nearly as high class as the national team and the things that we are accustomed to having with the national team. So there are excessive frustrations but we also know that we are starting something and in order to start any small business you need to start from a place where you can grow from and I think that we’ve done that. U.S. Soccer has kind of ensured that we have started at a more economical basis so that we can grow instead of having to take things away after years one and two.
GD: Despite the World Cup, but the Olympic wins and all of these high-profile and amazing results and stories ending in success, do you consider yourselves pioneers then?
AW: Pioneer? I don’t know, I think that the words people use, legend and pioneer and hero, you know, those are all things that are great for retirement, you know, maybe something that will make myself feel cool in front of my kids one day. I just play soccer and I enjoy what I do, I know I’m a role-model and I know that’s important to me. There are many women who came before me that I call the true pioneers so I’m going to stick to that. Hopefully I can keep playing as long as I can to bring home a World Cup championship for the U.S.
GD: Alright, let’s speak of that one pioneer, Mia Hamm, what was the sort of interaction between you two after you broke her record?
AW: She texted me congratulations and we have such respect for each other that I think it was just a matter of time in her eyes, you know, I don’t want to speak for her but I am proud to have had the chance to be her teammate and now I’m proud to have had the chance to have her mentor me in life, you know, what is it gonna feel like to get closer to retirement, what does it feel like to break a record, how do you handle this or that in lieu of any of the success I’ve had. She’s been a great friend, somebody that I look up to and, now that she has kids, hopefully one day I’ll be able to call her up and ask about some of the parenting advice she would give me.
GD: Yeah, you’ve got a valuable resource there that’s for sure! Tom Sermanni, your new coach [of the U.S. Women’s National Team], what more can he do with this team? Are their subtle Tom Sermanni changes going on that everybody’s got to get used to?
AW: Yeah, you know, I think Tom has his way of coaching and I’ve really appreciated him coming in and kind of going against the grain from what other national team coaches have brought to the table. For me, that’s an exciting thing, the challenge of being able to take a different philosophy, coaching style, and learn how to thrive in those circumstances. He’s a quiet coach, he kind of let’s the play set itself and I think as we get closer to the World Cup there’s going to be a lot more interaction with him on the field and the players. He’s also dealing with the challenge of having this league up and running and U.S. Soccer is invested in it and they really want to give the league the chance to thrive and so I think he’s kind of dialed it back with the national team camps this year but as we get closer to the World Cup I think he will start ramping up and get really excited. I think he’s got all the tools that will give us the opportunity of winning a World Cup and that’s why he’s here. I know Sunil [Gulati, President of U.S. Soccer Federation] would never have hired him unless he could bring a championship back home to the United States. I’m excited to see where things can go with Tom. What a great guy! I’ve really enjoyed spending the little amount of time we’ve spent together and I can’t wait to keep growing that relationship!
GD: You said “going against the grain.” What are some of the subtleties that he’s adding that’s getting you excited about playing under him?
AW: Well, I think one, definitely, is that he’s been switching up. The one thing people don’t realize, because we’ve had a similar starting lineup over the last few years, is that our player pool is super deep. I think that’s actually one of the biggest strengths, the biggest strength of our national team. Our second team that doesn’t get a start in the World Cup 2015, they would probably start for many other national teams. They could be U.S.A. “B-team”, if you will, and probably make the final four. That’s how good this team is. The depth of us is so great that he’s really trying to observe and see players, see players play and he believes that you can’t just give a player 20 minutes and tell them that’s the experience he wants them to have. He wants them to have 90 minute games, multiple 90 minute games so that he can really see how players interact with each other and that’s definitely very different than any other coach who has come in and taken over the team. As a starter over the last 10 years, I know that there can be a level of frustration at that then, because you know, we want to earn and win our spots but we also have to appreciate his expertise and his ability to want this team to win a World Cup and he’s the coach, and I want to follow him all the way to the top podium in Canada.
Transcribed by Cari Gelal