The United States women’s national team will round off its Victory Tour against China in New Orleans on Wednesday, but even more significantly it will bring the curtain down on one of the great careers in the history of women’s soccer. After 254 appearances for the U.S. and an international record of -- at least --184 goals, Abby Wambach will play her final professional match.
A talismanic presence both on the field for her team and in the growth of women’s soccer, Wambach announced her impending retirement in October, having claimed every major honor in the sport. There were two Olympic gold medals, in 2004 and 2008, the FIFA World Player of the Year in 2012, and this past summer the one prize that had painfully eluded her for so long -- the World Cup. Following that triumph, the 35-year-old says it is now time to hang up her cleats.
“Running and the game is not easy by any means,” she said in the buildup to her final match, according to the Associated Press. “It's evolved. It's harder than it ever used to be. The standard is even higher and that's the way it should be. Your body just knows when it knows. ... If I can't be the best at what I do, it's time for me to move on.”
There were plenty of signs that the end was near during the World Cup. While still a hugely influential presence in the locker room, Wambach was only used as a late substitute in the final against Japan, as well as in both the semifinals and quarterfinals. It is that fact that led Wambach to insist to coach Jill Ellis that the team would be fine without her.
“You guys won the World Cup without me on the field,” she recalled telling Ellis. “Everybody needs to get that in their head. I didn't play very many minutes and that's a good thing, because evolutionarily speaking, that's the way I've wanted this game to go. It is now better than I found it.
“There are now players that are better than I am that will take this game into the next decade. That's something I'm really proud of and I'm proud of our coaches and U.S. Soccer for believing in this product and this program so that it can get better.”
Wambach appeared for only a short cameo again on Sunday as the U.S. beat China 2-0 in Arizona. But she is likely to see significantly more time on Wednesday in the final game of the team’s post-World Cup Victory Tour. So far it has been a success in terms of results, with Ellis’ side, which are looking ahead to next summer’s Olympics, having won all but one of its games to date.
Yet, not everything has run smoothly. Just 10 days ago there was controversy when the team refused to play a match with Trinidad and Tobago in Honolulu because of the poor state of the artificial field. In the buildup to the game, star midfielder Megan Rapinoe tore her ACL in her right knee during a training session on a natural grass field that the players also criticized as being subpar.
For all the progress Wambach and her many teammates through the years have made in raising the profile of the women’s game and pushing for more equal treatment, the incident was a reminder that work still remains. The game on Wednesday at New Orleans’ Superdome will also be played, as a full eight of the 10 Victory Tour matches were scheduled to be, on artificial turf. U.S. Soccer has said that all of the women’s international games on home soil in 2016 will be played on natural grass.
The clash with China will be a rematch of the 2015 World Cup quarterfinal, which the U.S. won thanks to a goal from Carli Lloyd. On Sunday, the U.S. was triumphant again, with goals from Crystal Dunn and Christen Press.
Kickoff time: 8 p.m. EST
TV channel: Fox Sports 1
Live stream: Fox Sports Go