This past Thursday night, Abby Wambach became the leading goal scorer in International soccer. Yes, that’s right – international soccer as a whole, not just women’s. The previous holder of the record was Mia Hamm, Abby’s mentor and friend.
Mia Hamm held the record since 2004, scoring 158 international goals in 275 matches. Entering Thursday’s game, the last international match for the US Women until the fall, most expected Wambach to simply tie that record. She entered with 156 goals. She left with 160, not only tying the record with Hamm, but emphatically breaking it in her Abby Wambach ‘all at once, all or nothing’ style.
Wambach scored four goals in the first half of play. That’s four goals in 45 minutes. FOUR GOALS IN 45 MINUTES! Every single one was a thing of beauty, a work of art and with a mix of athleticism and precision, a true Wambach goal. Much has been said about how Abby is one of the most athletic soccer players in the women’s game – she’s 5’11” and all muscle, but you don’t become one of the world’s most prolific scorers on size and athleticism alone. You have to have precision, you have to have flourish, and you have to have heart. Wambach fought a pack of defenders for her first goal of the night, spinning around and finding the net. Her second, to tie Hamm’s record, was a diving header- her specialty. We would have expected nothing less. Her third, to break the record, was another header off a corner- a blistering shot into the net off a flick of her golden head. Her last goal of the night came seemingly by surprise, as she slid down to the ground on her knees to meet the ball and ended up in the back of the goal along with it (taking down two defenders with her). You can watch each of her four goals in the video below (Thanks, US Soccer).
What makes this moment even better is that each of her teammates was feeding her the ball, supporting her on this quest to at least tie Mia Hamm. They weren’t selfish; they passed it to her instead of taking clear shots on their own. After each goal, Abby’s first celebratory hug went to the teammate on the other end of the ball (which is her norm). Lauren Cheney assisted on the first two, Megan Rapinoe assisted on the record breaker, and Alex Morgan on the emphasis. Also adding to the magic of the night – a group of Abby’s family and friends were in attendance. A close-up of her mother after each goal added more emotion.
Abby Wambach has now done something no one else in international soccer has done. She has scored 160 goals and counting. And those are only goals that are scored during international matches, leaving out league play. International matches include: World Cup (and qualifiers), Olympic matches (and qualifiers), international tournaments and invitationals (like the Algarve Cup) as well as friendlies, like the game on Thursday. She also has done this with just 207 games under her belt, as well as time away when she broke her leg before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, not to mention her wicked case of Achilles Tendinitis.
I’ll admit I’m biased to Abby’s awesomeness. I share a hometown with her, I’ve followed her career since she’s had one and I’ve met her twice. What I’ve grown to love about her is not only her amazing skill and fearlessness, but also her heart and her humility. When asked how it felt to break that record, Abby made sure to thank Mia Hamm for teaching her the game, for taking her under her wing and really showing her how to be great. Then, she thanked her teammates, because she knows that without them, her accomplishments wouldn’t happen. Abby is always, always, thanking her teammates. That integrity is something refreshing in professional sports. I like my athletes humble, grateful, and awed that they get to live their dreams every day. When asked how it felt, Wambach responded “Fairy tale is probably a very good word to describe it.”
Mia Hamm released a statement before the game was even over, congratulating Abby on surpassing her milestone. Joking that she was glad they shared 158 for the short period of time that they did (Abby scored her 159th goal 11 minutes later).
Abby has had some amazing goals and some amazing moments in her career. Her goal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, her unforgettable header in the 2011 Women’s World Cup against Brazil in the 122nd minute of play, her five goals in the 2012 London Olympics. She’s amazing, she’s a machine, she’s a true athlete. But, this Thursday night might be the most prolific in her illustrious career so far. Not only did she break Mia Hamm’s record, she broke it in style, scoring four goals in the first half. That feat alone would be something to talk about.
Abby will be the first to say that she doesn’t expect the record to stand for very long. Not with the likes of Canada’s Cristine Sinclair hot on her heels, as well as the up and coming Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux. Alex, who Abby has taken under her wing just as Mia did her, had a record 2012 of her own. Wambach has said she doesn’t put too much emphasis on the fact that she’s in the record books. She has already started moving on to the next goal, to improving her game, to chasing that elusive World Cup Title.
The hashtag has officially been changed from #chasingmia to #chasingabby. I for one can’t wait to see just how much more she can do.
Featured Image: Al Bello/Getty Images, Videos via: USSoccer, in-text image: Huffington Post