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Abby Wambach: A Legend at 200 Caps and Counting

On a night when the United States' star forward celebrated a milestone and drew one goal closer to breaking Mia Hamm's international record, she honored her teammates. That's who she is.
BY Maura Gladys Posted
February 20, 2013
12:34 PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Wait, who are you looking for? Abby Wambach? It's definitely not hard to spot her. She’s right over there, warming up with Sydney Leroux, one of the younger players on the team. You really can’t miss Wambach loping around--five-foot-eleven, blue knit cap. Probably sending a header into the goal.

Tonight’s a special night for her. Abby Wambach is appearing in the U.S. national team jersey for the 200th time this evening, making her only the second player on the current roster to reach that milestone behind captain Christie Rampone.

Its a pretty cool thing, huh? To be this close to a legend on such a special night. It makes you feel things. Feeling that can get mixed up with the high-pitched shrieks coming from thousands of young girls—lifting the stadium up like a wave, drowning the players, especially Wambach—with their adulation and love. Feelings that connect you to every person who has followed Wambach’s career, from a scrappy kid to a poised leader on the brink of history, and make you feel like her journey is a reflection of your own.

After a quick pre-match ceremony during which Wambach is presented with flowers honoring the milestone, it’s clear that she would rather focus on more important things, like the game.

Just a few minutes in, if you listen closely—or if you just listen at all—you can hear Wambach’s voice on the field. Despite after 200 caps, her vocal chords have yet to wear down. As the game is still shaking out its legs, the U.S. is defending a corner kick and Wambach is in the middle of the American penalty box, her voice reverberating into the Tennessee air, imploring her teammates to give every single ounce of effort and energy on this ball, because it is a certainty that Wambach will be doing the same.

It’s a wonder that the rest of Wambach’s body has stayed as intact as it has, but on this night against Scotland, she’s proving it, barreling down the field at every opportunity. She's like a truck rolling downhill, pedal slammed to the floor, ready to knock any obstacle out of her path. Even on balls that have just smallest glimmer that they might turn into goals, Wambach is shoulders down, head down, and gunning it.

It’s that drive that helps Wambach add to her goal tally and inch her closer to breaking Mia Hamm’s all time goal-scoring record. Leroux did most of the heavy lifting as she did all night, running onto the ball then sending a cross in for Wambach to barrel into with precision. But Wambach has earned that privilege.

Do you see her now? Sitting over on the bench? Once she notched that goal, a fitting ending to the occasion, her night was done. But she’s not on the bench for long. Christen Press, Wambach’s substitute, nets the third goal of the game and of her career, and Wambach is the first one off the bench and on the sidelines cheering. It was one long jump from the bench to the touchline. A quick gobble of grass that illustrates her love for her teammates and for goals. That might be Wambach’s most important trait. Despite her stature in elite company with USWNT legends, Wambach uses her platform to trumpet the skills of her teammates.

After the game, as she was being interviewed as the Woman of the Match, the first thing Wambach did was turn the spotlight on Press, Leroux, and Crystal Dunn, who earned her first career cap that night. She gushed about how special the night was for them, and what bright futures lie ahead.

That moment is what set Wambach apart that night. She knows the importance of creating a lineage. Tons of people have already connected the dots between Wambach and Morgan, a logical progression of the American striker. But now, Wambach herself is drawing lines. So now, when Leroux and Press are veterans, they can talk about how Wambach made that moment for them in Nashville, on the night of her 200th cap.

There will be plenty of opportunities to continue talking about Abby Wambach. She will almost certainly break Hamm’s record within the next two months, and has her eye on one last push at winning a World Cup title. But on a day that was supposed to represent Wambach’s longevity and dominance, the forward honored her teammates. Beyond the goals and accomplishments, that might go down as her lasting legacy.

Maura Gladys, a featured ASN columnist, works in production for KICKTV. She also runs the goalkeeping blog All You Need Is Glove.

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