By Yemi Babalola, Lagos
Football (or soccer as Americans like to call the sport) as we know is one of the most unifying sports in the world today, it has moved and is embraced, that we now have so many types of footballing sports and it has transcended sexes in that as we have male football legends the women are also not left out.
That is why our Amazon for the week is no other than one of the greatest female footballer of all time, Abby Wambach.
Wambach was the last of a family of seven and was born on June 2, 1980 in Rochester, New York. She was born Mary Abigail Wambach, her middle name was shortened to Abby and that is the name she is popularly called. She develop interest in playing football from the age four alongside one of her sibling who wanted to try the sport. As early as age five, she played in her first youth soccer league; she was moved to the male team seeing her prolific scoring ability.
Lettering in soccer and basketball, Wambach attended Our Lady of Mercy High School, Rochester from 1994 to 1998 in New York. As a striker, she developed her playing style better with the help of her older male siblings who through Hockey toughened her and helped her in eluding defenders, in which she mastered the act of heading and diving headers (which later became her signature style of play). Wambach scored an inspiring 142 goals during her high school soccer career.
Professionally, Wambach’s career kicked off in 1997, when she traveled with the American youth soccer team to Beijing, China to compete there. In the same year, she trained and played with the United States women’s national soccer team.
As one of the nations’ top 10 recruits by the popular USA Today publication in 1997, many colleges sought her but eventually she decided on attending the University of Florida, which granted her a full athletic scholarship. Wambach helped her team the ‘Florida Gators’ win their first NCAA national championship over their North Carolina counterpart. In addition, the team went on to win four consecutive Southeastern Conference (SEC) championships from 1998 to 2001, which was the period she spent in the institution.
After college, Wambach proceeded to play for Washington Freedom. This began her football professional career; she scored 23 goals in 37 appearances for the team. After which the league body ‘WUSA’ running the women league folded in 2003. Which saw Wambach without club football from 2003 until 2008, when a new body came up; she re-signed to Washington Freedom and scored 21 goals in her second spell with the team.
The other teams she played for in her club career are MagicJack (formerly Washington Freedom) but now situated in Florida, in 2013 she moved back to New York and played for Western New York Flash where she scored 17 goals in 29 appearances for the side.
Looking at her international career, Wambach was named into the United States national women’s team in 2001. She was influential in the United States making it to third-place at the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
In 2004, at the Athens Olympics in Greece, at the women football competition, Wambach helped the United States team with her prolific header in scoring a match-winning goal in the extra time, which saw the team winning Gold medal.
Wambach alongside her teammates came third at the 2007 World Cup, with her winning the Silver shoe as the tournaments’ second leading scorer. Wambach missed the 2008 Olympics due to a broken leg and suffered a head injury during the World Cup qualification. While helping her team to wining Silver medal at the 2011 World Cup after their loss to Japan in the finals.
The team exacted revenge on their Japanese counterparts at the 2012 Olympics, where they won the gold medal in the women’s football competition and Wambach despite being sucker-punched by Colombia’s Lady Andrade in the earlier part of the competition, did not get deterred as she finished second in the competition with 6 goals.
At the 2015 Women’s World cup Wambach though not part of the main squad initially, made her mark as she helped the U.S. team by scoring the lone goal in the final group game against Nigeria, which was pivotal in helping the team all to the final where they defeated Japan and won the title.
In 2012, her hard work and dedication on the pitch paid off, as she won the 2012 FIFA Women’s Player of the year award, making her the second American to win the prestigious award. She would later get to be a finalist for the award in 2011 and 2013.
Her other accolades includes, winning the U.S Soccer Athlete of the year award 6 times from 2003 to 2013. Wambach was awarded the 2011 ESPY Award for Best Play for her 122nd-minute equalizing goal against Brazil during the quarterfinal. Wambach won the Women’s Sports Foundation Sportswoman of the Year and received the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year, the first individual soccer player ever (man or woman) to receive the award.
After winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup alongside her teammates, the player received a key to the city of New York from Mayor Bill de Blasio. In October of the same year, President Barack Obama at the White House honored the team. Wambach was named on Time Magazine’s 100 list of the most influential people in the world.
Wambach received the 2016 ESPY Icon Award; she announced her retirement from international football after the 2015 Women’s World Cup. She has gone on to become a New York Best-selling Author, with her autobiography released in 2016.
Though retired from the game, Abby Wambach is one name that would constantly pop up in women’s football. I leave you with this quote from Wambach that says, ‘sometimes you have to go through hard times to get to the good stuff’. Which truly depicts how the life of humans are.