Abby Wambach did not have much say on the field over the United States‘ victory on Sunday, but she was undoubtedly the team’s emotional leader throughout the entire 2015 Women’s World Cup.
Wambach saw the final World Cup action of her career, playing in her 25th career match as a substitute at 79′ on Sunday with the Americans already leading the Japanese 5-2 in the event. The U.S. held on for the victory, winning its first World Cup since 1999 (third ever, the most of any nation) and avenging a penalty kick loss to Japan four years ago.
For Wambach, who only scored one goal in this year’s World Cup, the victory was just as sweet as if she had started every match during the month-long event. Instead, she watched on as Carli Lloyd – the heir apparent team captain – registered a hat trick in the first 16 minutes of competition, scoring at 3′, 5′ and again at 16′ from midfield. Between Lloyd’s three goals was one by Lauren Holliday at 14′, and Tobin Health responded to two Japanese goals with an insurance strike at 54′ for the Americans.
Lloyd gave her captain armband to Wambach when she entered out of respect.
The U.S. improved to 19-1-4 in World Cup play under Wambach, 35, whose 183 goals in 248 appearances make her the all-time international goal scorer for both women and men. Wambach will end her career with 14 World Cup goals, one shy of the record.
Though she had won two Olympic gold medals with the Americans (the United States has actually won three straight from 2004-12 but Wambach did not participate in the 2008 games after breaking her leg in a friendly), the World Cup trophy had eluded Wambach with the United States not bringing one home since 1999.
Over the last three events, the Americans had won a pair of third place games over Canada (2003) and Norway (2007) before falling in the finals to Japan (2011). Wambach had won plenty of individual honors, including being named the 2011 Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year and 2012 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year. She even won the Bronze Boot and Silver Ball after the 2011 Women’s World Cup.
It was that very World Cup title that alluded her … until Sunday.
Whether Wambach is a member of the American national team during the 2016 Rio Olympics remains to be seen. Aside from friendlies celebrating the World Cup title, Sunday may have been the final international soccer match of her career.
Wambach now has that previously-elusive World Cup title to add two her national championship with the Florida Gators and pair of Olympic gold medals. She is the second former Florida soccer player to bring home the world’s biggest prize, joining Danielle Fotopoulos who did so with the United States in 1999.