FourFourTwo's top 25 players in U.S. women's national team history: No. 3
3. Abby Wambach
Numbers define Abby Wambach’s career to the outside world, but numbers really don’t define Abby Wambach.
She finished her career at the end of 2015 with 184 career international goals, the most ever scored by a man or woman. She won two Olympic gold medals – forced to watch 2008 from home after breaking her leg in the final preparation match – and scored the game-winning goal at the 2004 Olympics, when the extent of her legend was not yet known. Wambach’s U.S. career spanned 13 years and 255 appearances, and it ended with her claiming the most prized possession she sought: the World Cup trophy.
That is where the fabric of Wambach comes into focus. For all the incredible goals she scored – perhaps none more famous than one of the most dramatic the sport has seen, the equalizer in the 2011 World Cup quarterfinal against Brazil which “saved the USA’s life” and changed the trajectory of the team’s popularity – there were the moments of hunger and desire which cannot be taught. She played through injury, once having her bleeding head stapled on the sideline with the U.S. trailing in World Cup qualifying. She led from the sidelines in her final moments in the spotlight – famously demanding “a f***ing goal” in the 2015 World Cup quarterfinal against China – accepting the humbling truth so many superstars reject: Her team’s odds of winning the trophy she desired were better with her off the field at that very moment.
Wambach can and frequently does thank Mia Hamm for taking her under her wing for club and country in the early days of Wambach’s career, when the striker by her own admittance lacked discipline on and off the field. Hamm helped instill that, and together the two won the 2003 WUSA Founders Cup Championship and the 2004 Olympics before Wambach would eventually break Hamm’s record of 158 career international goals.
There is only one Abby Wambach, a 5-foot-11 wrecking ball who few defenders never stood a chance against in the air. She scored 77 goals with her head, which would rank seventh all-time in U.S. scoring on their own. She scored the gold-medal winning goal in 2004 with her head, that 2011 quarterfinal goal with her head, in the 2011 World Cup final with her head … the list goes on.
Many consider Wambach to be the all-time greatest. The margins between the program’s top-three are certainly thin.