|Abby Wambach answers questions during the United States' Women's World Cup Media Day at Marriott Marquis Hotel on May 27, 2015 in New York City.
Abby Wambach is one of, if not the most, decorated women in soccer: two-time Olympic champion, FIFA Player of the Year, international career scoring leader, NCAA champion, among other accolades.
A glaring omission from the resume is a Women's World Cup title, and at 35, this year's quadrennial championship in Canada is her last chance at one.
“Right now, you're damn right I need it,” Wambach said. “It's all that I'm thinking about, all that's on my mind. It's the thing that I haven't been able to be a part of. It's the thing I haven't won yet.”
She's come tantalizingly close three times before. As a member of Team USA, she lost in the semifinals twice, to Germany in 2003 and Brazil in 2007, and on penalties in the final four years ago to Japan.
The Women's World Cup has a special significance for Team USA, considering its much-celebrated victory in 1999 on home soil. Three Olympic gold medals since, and four overall, have helped salve the wounds, but not completely.
“The Olympic Games are fantastic, but the women's World Cup is the premier event in our sport, so I think the players are excited about the opportunity,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “They have confidence in what they are capable of doing and again like myself, see it as an opportunity to do something great for this game and our country.”
Team USA took the first of seven steps to ending its 16-year Women's World Cup title drought with a 3-1 victory over Australia on Monday, and faces its second test Friday at 8 p.m. ET against Sweden in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
It will have extra significance with Team USA facing its former coach, Pia Sundhage, now in charge of her native Sweden.
Sweden has beaten the U.S. women only six times in 35 all-time meetings. However, three of those victories have come in the last seven encounters over the past four years, including a 2-1 win at the 2011 World Cup.
Ellis said before the tournament that she might utilize Wambach in a variety of roles.
“She can start. She can come in off the bench. I think there will be certain games where it's going to benefit us to have her come in and close a game, and there will be certain games where I think it's her ability to start,” Ellis said. “I'm confident and I know a lot about what Abby can give us.”
|Abby Wambach #20 brings the ball down in front of the goal against Ireland in the second half of their international friendly match on May 10, 2015 at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif.
With 242 international games, Wambach has played the fifth-most of any woman and has only one teammate (Christie Rampone; 306) ahead of her still active. But with 182 goals, no player is close to her, active or retired. Mia Hamm is nearest with 158 and she retired 11 years ago.
That gives Ellis a certain confidence with regards to Wambach.
“She's just such a clutch player and used to the spotlight, in terms of performing at such a high level,” she said. “We've got a lot of new players, where this is their first big event. So I think her experience also helps us.”
And when others have suggested Wambach needs to be relegated to the bench, her teammates have quickly defended her.
Hope Solo said she was asked recently to use one word to describe Wambach and she came up with “winner.”
“She's a plain winner,” Solo said. “And when you say she's a winner, that comes with everything: her leadership, her intensity. For me she is the best teammate because she knows how to win.”
Having been unable to win the Women's World Cup three times previously, Wambach is counting on lifting the trophy in Canada and having “winner” the last word associated with her career.
“Not many people get the opportunity to (play in a World Cup) once and I've had a few chances at it,” Wambach said. “And obviously it being my last, I want it to be fairytale-like and I want to go out on top.”
Brian Trusdell has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.