Abby Wambach and the National Teams
by Shane Stay, author of Why American Soccer Isn’t There Yet
Categorized recently for her disparaging words against Jurgen Klinsmann and foreign-born USMNT players, which caused feud-like comments on social media from Alejandro Bedoya and Jozy Altidore, Abby Wambach came at an interesting time in the history of the USWNT. She arrived during the transition from an era shrouded in success thanks to the golden generation of Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, Julie Foudy and other gifted players on the 1999 team, which won the World Cup in dramatic fashion against an amazingly talented Chinese side. Since then, the USWNT continued with success in their field along with a little more resistance as the women’s game had substantially gained in popularity and quality around the world in the 2000s. The immediate concern was: Who would take over the team once Hamm and others filtered out? Great players came and went – including the technical talents of Aly Wagner – but during the 2000s the preeminent leader of the cause was Wambach, who held up the attack as a taller player, gifted in the air, eventually scoring 184 goals for the national team.
As time went on, and World Cup titles that would otherwise belong to the USWNT were going to other teams – including Germany and Japan – some people started to wonder when the glory of 1999 would return. Was the world catching up to the US – who had World Cup titles from 1991 and 1999 – or was the US relying too much on a crossing attack thanks to the aerial supremacy of Wambach? For the latter, it could be said that such an approach was stifling a “better” possession-based attack. Maybe she was scoring too many goals, which kept others out of focus. Whatever the case, at the end of her career, Wambach – to her credit – accepted a demotion to the bench for the 2015 World Cup title in which the team found its creative spark midway in the tournament.
For perspective on her 184 goals, Pele didn’t break 100 for Brazil. An argument can be made that the women’s side lacks “across the board” competitive teams that exist in the men’s game. Regardless how that argument ends up, it is after all 184 goals, which leads all men and women for national team play.
Considering how the US consistently dominates the Olympics, it’s hard to imagine that the men haven’t caught up with soccer. Wambach took away two gold medals during her time. The titles for the men should arrive, someday. Comparing the USMNT and the USWNT gets tricky. Post late 1970s, men’s and women’s soccer picked up drastically in popularity. The women’s side became dominant when the rest of the world was playing less, while the men’s side struggled to gain leverage within a world of teams that had close to a hundred year head start. Everyone is waiting for the USMNT to overcome the last American athletic frontier and make history in Russia, while the USWNT look to repeat as world champions.
Shane Stay is a former professional soccer player, writer, comedian, producer and founder of Leaf Dressing. In 2008, Stay co-authored a print book, published a magazine story, worked clubs as a comedian, played restaurateur, received a Master of Arts, and played professional soccer. Stay has a Bachelor of Arts from Sonoma State University and a Master of Arts from Southern Illinois University.
Follow Shane on Twitter @shanestay and Facebook (Shane Stay).