For the first time in Women’s Soccer France’s history – and I truly hope those occasions would be rare -, I will speak on my behalf, using the “I” I’m not supposed to use. I hope you would forgive me as well as you would forgive my English. This is my first opinion column here and I guess I’m not starting with the easiest subject : tonight, I will pay tribute to Mary Abigail Wambach, USWNT’s legendary #20. The one who announced – at least, would some of us say – her retirement, following the USWNT’s party at the White House. On the 16th of December, the World’s all-time leading scorer with 184 goals will wave goodbye.
Writing that I have been surprised would be a lie. I was simply worrying about the very moment of the announcement. Of course, from an objective point of view, it is pretty much the best decision to make : her retirement will leave a free spot for the USWNT’s roster for Rio. She is no longer able to play for 90 minutes. And her last performances were the shadow of what she could have produced, only a few years ago. But if my opinion on Abby Wambach were only based on those considerations, which are legit though technical, I would have never discovered the legend behind the now famous undercut. To be honest, when I was watching the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup finale, I didn’t know much about Wambach. I didn’t need goals – anyway, I had missed my only opportunity to see her scoring against Nigeria – I needed those gestures. Two in particular : at the 79th minute, when Wambach entered the pitch and was giving the captain armband from Carli Lloyd’s insisting hands, showing an absolute respect to her, and just after the final whistle, when she ran through the field to the stand to kiss her wife, a strong and powerful picture that would spread all around the world. Abby Wambach had just added the only remaining title that she missed in her entire amazing career : she was now a World Cup Champion. At this very moment, watching this joy and this emotion on her face moved me in a way I thought I couldn’t even experience.
The very specificity of the USWNT is that we do not love it only because of its performances : we do love it because of its human and familiar face. For this family spirit that bounds all the players with each other – some of them in a stronger way than for the others, we know that -, whether it is on and off the field. And as I am writing this article in English, I can say that it is really unique : in France, it is slightly different. We don’t have this spirit. We don’t see the link between our players on the field. Which can be a reason we show random results or winning without being brilliant. This is the key of the USWNT. Because they are capable of moving us in such an emotional way. Because they are commited in causes that go beyond the sport. Saying that Abby Wambach is a truly exceptional player, the World’s all-time leading scorer who has broken any record hold by both men and women, saying that if her head could be a player, it would stand in the World top 10, with more than 70 goals scored by an epic header out of the 184 of her career, saying that she even broke the Mia Hamm’s amazing record, would both be correct and uncorrect. Abby Wambach is much more than this. She is a leader, one of the kind we would follow to hell if they asked us. A legend. Humble and commited, she contributed to grow the game, this mission she was so determined to accomplish. From her sometimes provocative speeches towards sponsors, to her anger towards the FIFA about the TurfGate, she helped to change the face of women’s soccer around the world, in her own way. From her genius header on the non-less awesome cross from Pinoe, at the 122nd minute of the match against Brazil, in the 2011 World Cup, she has written her legend in the flames and inspired the new generation of the USWNT – and a whole bunch of fans all around the world as well.
>> Vidéo (VOSTFR) : “Abby Wambach : Endosser les couleurs nationales est toujours une fierté pour moi “
Humble, generous and brave, she’s the one who puts her team first. It’s her philosophy – that is shared by many of the USWNT players. Even if she had already said that she wanted so badly to win that World Cup for her career, there had never been a single moment on those Canadian fields when she hadn’t insisted on the fact that every single player in this team, whether they were on the field or on the bench, deserved to win this trophy. She didn’t forget one second the reality of the competition and the unfalling support of the fans. Her World Cup doesn’t have her face. But the face of this big American Outlaws’ family, the face of the players and the staff members. She received this humility at the same time she received the torch from Foudy, Hamm and Chastain among others in 2004, when Wambach was part of the Young Guard of the USWNT. A legacy. Now, it’s her time to pass the torch. And there is so much respect in the tributes from her current and former teammates – and also from fans – that there is nothing to be afraid of : there will still be this magic, as long as their heart will beat with the same flame that beats in Wambach’s and the legends before her. And this is what makes this team so special.
Among those heroes we imagine, we fantasize and look for, sometimes for an entire life, Abby Wambach belongs to this so special kind of realistic and close role models who open the gate of the possibilites with a smile and make the most wonderful victories so easy to reach. “We just gotta believe“. That’s what she said in a breath, during this amazing interview given to Fox Soccer, just a few moments before putting the crest on for the finale. We just gotta believe. Those words have never sounded that real to me before. And simple.
If I were asked to sum up Abby Wambach in a few words – which is basically impossible – I would remember her for her heart and her head – and obviously not only for a headers, speaking of head. On and off the field, she has this passion and this wisdom that make her one of the greatest player and role-model ever. From the incredible teammate, to this captain with those passionate and intense pregame speeches, or this simple woman with an amazing self-mocking sense of humor – “I would consider myself as the sexiest pro athlete in the world and why ? I mean look at me !” quickly dispelled by her disarming smile -, or her clear gaze and her passion on the field that could have cost her so much more than a few staples in the fronthead, like in this game against Mexico, where she required to be healed on the field, while she was spilling her blood all over the grass, and getting back in the game immediatly. Her loyalty towards her teammates. And how easily she makes inspiring statements in every occasion. Her retirement is well deserved and there is no doubt that Abby Wambach won’t stay too far from soccer. By retiring, she just marked the sport of her footprint, joined the legendary 99ers that she contributed to surpass with her team, and let us remember that she is one of the greatest player that America has ever had. There is no doubt her banner will wave for a long time in the USWNT’s History.
No. I wasn’t surprised by her announcement. I was devastated. Thank you Abby, today I’m saluting not only a champion but also – and above all – a legend. Thank you for everything that you have done for the sport and the USWNT. You made me fall in love with Women’s Soccer and I got to learn the USWNT until every single number became a familiar face. You inspired me to be a better person. You inspired me to believe in me for the first time. It’s been a real honor for me to see the USWNT winning this World Cup and watch your triumph. If I had to regret one thing, it would be to not have known you before. And well, to be unable to see you play “for real”, on a pitch. But well, I would have fainted anyway. And if I should wish for an only thing, it would be to see your number be forever yours in the USWNT. Enjoy, champ. You will always have a very special place in my heart. You changed my life. Thank you, Abby.
O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells; Rise up — for you the flag is flung — for you the bugle trills;
From O Captain ! My Captain ! – Walt Whitman (in Leaves of Grass)