US star Wambach claims major honor
CHICAGO - The Associated Press
In this file photo from July 13, 2011, US forward Abby Wambach celebrates scoring during the semifinal match against France at the Women’s World Cup in Germany. AP photoWith the final seconds ticking down and the Americans on the verge of their earliest exit ever from the Women’s World Cup, Abby Wambach kept waving her index finger at her teammates.
One chance, she screamed, all they needed was one chance.
When it came in the form of a left-footed cross from Megan Rapinoe, Wambach pounced. With one vicious whip of her head, she changed the course of this year’s World Cup and sparked a frenzy rarely seen for women’s sports in the United States.
Wambach’s performance at the World Cup made her the clear choice for the 2011 Female Athlete of the Year in the United States, selected by members of The Associated Press. The U.S. forward received 65 of the 214 votes cast, while teammate Hope Solo (38) was a distant second and basketball player Maya Moore (35) was third.
Wambach is the first individual football player - man or woman - to win one of the AP’s annual sports awards, which began in 1931. The U.S. women’s team won in 1999, when their World Cup triumph at the Rose Bowl transfixed the nation.
“We, as a team, did something that no team since Mia Hamm was able to do,” Wambach told the AP. “Even the team that won the (Olympic) gold medal in 2008 wasn’t able to inspire and get people excited about women’s soccer. It goes to show you the impact drama can bring.”
Wambach’s four goals in Germany give her 13 in three World Cup appearances. That’s the most by an American, topping Michelle Akers by one, and puts her third on the all-time World Cup scoring list behind Brazil forward Marta and Germany striker Birgit Prinz. The 31-year-old American ranks third on the U.S. career scoring list with 125 goals, trailing only Mia Hamm (158) and Kristine Lilly (130).
“When she’s on top of her game,” United States coach Pia Sundhage said, “she’s one of the best in the world.”
Wambach was certainly at her best at the World Cup, leading the Americans to the final, where they lost to Japan on penalty kicks.
“I’m not a person who cares much about (individual) awards, but I really appreciate you guys recognizing this team,” Wambach said. “It helps keep this sport alive, and it’s really important.” The Americans are the defending Olympic champions, and Wambach and her teammates are currently training for next month’s regional qualifying tournament.
“I have to say, of all people, I think she is one of the best role models: interacting with fans, saying good things about the game, saying good things about this country, saying good things about her teammates,” Sundhage said. “I’m very proud of the fact I’ve had the chance to coach her for so many years. It will be a highlight of my career.”