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With World Cup Berth Sealed, Wambach Believes U.S. Can Win

By Michael Lewis | Oct. 27, 2014, 12:36 a.m. (ET)

Abby Wambach controls the ball against Costa Rica in the second half of the 2014 CONCACAF Women's Championship final on Oct. 26, 2014 at PPL Park in Chester, Pennsylvania.

CHESTER, Pa. -- In Abby Wambach’s bedroom closet hangs a bronze medal that reminds her of one of the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s greatest failures: a bronze medal from the 2010 CONCACAF Women’s Championship.

The Americans finished third in that tournament and, because of their shortcomings in the competition, needed a special playoff win over Italy to clinch a berth at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

“I know what it felt like four years ago to not be getting a championship medal from this tournament,” Wambach said. “Truthfully, that third-place medal still hangs in my closest, so that I can see it. So it’s a constant reminder of not letting chances slip by.”

On Sunday night, Wambach and her U.S. teammates did not let this chance slip away. With Wambach equalizing her personal-best with four goals (and one assist), the Americans registered an emphatic 6-0 triumph over Costa Rica in the 2014 CONCACAF Women’s Championship title game at PPL Park in suburban Philadelphia.

“It’s good for the mentality of the group to go through an experience like we did tonight,” Wambach said. “The team’s going across the stage gathering their medals.”

That certainly would be good practice for the World Cup in Canada next summer after finishing this competition without surrendering a goal in five matches.

“Clearly the U.S. is deserving champions,” Costa Rica coach Garabet Avedissian said. “They are still the best in the world.

“All you can do really when Abby Wambach is playing like this is to pray, pray that they don’t get the ball to her.”

All the praying in the world probably would not have helped a greatly improved Costa Rican side, which earned its first WWC berth with a win on Friday night. The taller 5-foot-11 Wambach and the Americans made the most of their height advantage to score five of their six goals off headers.

Wambach said that her timing on headers was off recently.

“I’ve thought a lot about it,” she said. “Opportunities that I’ve had over the last five to 10 games, with my head, I’m whiffing, I’m thinking too hard about it. Thankfully my teammates put me in positions today where I couldn’t think. I was set up to be successful. Carli (Lloyd) played really well tonight, putting me in great positions.”

Wambach started her virtual one-woman show with a header off a Morgan Brian feed in the fourth minute. She set up Lloyd’s header in the 18th minute before the midfielder returned the favor twice in the 35th and 41st minutes, when Wambach finished aerial shots to give the United States a 4-0 halftime advantage.

The Rochester, New York, native added her fourth goal by using her feet in the 71st minute before Sydney Leroux completed the scoring with a six-yard header in the 73rd minute.

Even after a sterling performance in which she earned the Golden Boot as the top goal-scorer of the tournament, Wambach admitted she was hardly at top form. The 34-year-old veteran striker said she was at “60 percent there.”

She has seven months to find her top form.

“I want to be continually, gradually climbing. Hopefully not coming across any setbacks in terms of injury,” she said. “But the reality is it’s a long seven months. There is a lot of stress, a lot of responsibility and pressure that goes into it. I am happy the way the tournament turned out for our team. Got a little bit of fitness under my belt.”

Wambach boasts a soccer résumé that is second to none — personal and team. She is the all-time leading international goal-scorer on the planet with 177. She has earned two Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2012 (she missed out on a chance for a third in 2008 due to injury). She has been FIFA women’s world player of the year.

It seems she has everything — everything but a Women’s World Cup championship medal, something that she is longing for, more than anything else.

“If we can get outside of our own selves, play as a unit, not just the 11 on the field, but in the World Cup, the 23 others are on the squad can play as a unit ... we can do whatever we would want,” she said. “That’s something that’s very special. As long as we don’t get our egos involved, ‘I’m not playing or you’re playing.’ If we’re not comparing ourselves to each other and just comparing ourselves to ourselves, this team is going to win a World Cup.” 

The United States might be ranked No. 1 in the world by FIFA, but the Americans haven’t taken a victory lap with a WWC trophy since Brandi Chastain converted that dramatic penalty kick and whipped off her jersey against China in July 1999. When Canada 2015 kicks off June 6, it will be nearly 16 not-so-always-sweet years.

“We have an opportunity to win a World Cup, we really do,” Wambach said. “If this team can manufacture seven consistent games — they don’t have to be great-looking games — where several players step up to the plate, where certain players shine when the light is shining so bright, then maybe we have a really great chance of winning the World Cup.”

And put that bronze medal away for good.

Michael Lewis, who covers soccer for Newsday, has written about the sport for four decades and has written six books about soccer. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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