As an added service, each week U.S. Soccer will be producing an "On the Field" article on ussoccer.com from one of National Team coaches or players. In this edition, U.S. forward Abby Wambach, the 2002 WUSA Rookie of the Year, talks about her transition from collegian to pro, being named the MVP of the first-ever WUSA All-Star Game, and the best role model a young striker could have. This Sunday, Wambach and the U.S. Women's National Team open the 2002 edition of the Nike U.S. Women’s Cup with a match against Russia at the Mitchel Athletic Complex at 4 p.m. ET (live on ussoccer.com’s MatchTracker, presented by Philips Electronics).
By Abby Wambach
I feel like I’ve been playing soccer forever. After the college season, I took a little break, but not enough to get totally mentally and physically refreshed. Then to go through a long WUSA season like that, especially with a month-and-a-half long pre-season, was challenging. Mentally, you have to come out and find ways to make it work, and for me it’s all about finding ways to have fun. Every day I just try to find something that makes it fun, whether it’s competing in sprints in practice, scoring goals in our scrimmages or cracking jokes. Whatever it may be you have to find what is going to make you happy and come out every day and try to do that. Without that mental approach, I find that people lose the edge really easily.
That said the All-Star Game was a lot of fun. There were some women I’ve been around for the last couple of years and a few All-Stars that I’d never met. It was unique and interesting to meet some great people who I’d only competed against in the past and come together in an environment where we didn’t feel like enemies. It was just a bunch of talented players having fun on the soccer field, which I guess is what an All-Star Game is supposed to be.
Quite honestly I was surprised to make the All-Star team. Obviously, there are some extremely talented women in this league. I felt honored to be chosen by my peers and fans, and as a young player, even though I’ve been able to play with the national team for a while now, it was just great experience to be among all the Americans and the internationals. It might be one of those things you don’t appreciate until after, but I feel fortunate to have that experience in my first year in the league. There have been a lot of women’s players who came before and made history in many ways, but it was special to be a part of this bit of history -- the first-ever WUSA All-Star Game.
When you get a bunch of competitive people together for any game, even if we all know it’s just for fun, you’re still going to get a competitive match. The whole event was about being selected to an All-Star Team and playing like one. Even though it was a friendly game, the sophistication was at a high level. It a fun-loving game, but everyone was trying to make the crowd roar and entertain the fans and to put on a good show for the WUSA.
When they told me I won the MVP, I was like, “Did you get the name right?” My goals weren’t anything too spectacular, but I guess I had the most points. To earn the MVP award at a game where there were so many wonderful players is a huge honor.
I must say that when talking about my success on the field I cannot underestimate the impact that Mia Hamm has had on my game. I can go in seven or eight different directions about how she has helped me, all of them positive. She’s really mentored me, whether she knows it or not. I’ve been watching what she does and how she does it for a while now, and obviously, I’m a different player and trying to do things my own way, but who better than one of the best and most prolific goal scorers in the world to watch and learn from? She probably doesn’t know how much she’s helped me, but I attribute much of my success in the last year to her. Even when she was injured, she was giving me hints about playing forward that I’ve never had before. She spoke to me in a way - from a player and a scorer’s viewpoint - which I’ve never had before. I’m happy and fortunate to have been drafted by Washington.
When I first got called into the national team I was a bit nervous and apprehensive about what to expect. What I learned is that you have so many different roles to play and respect to earn from so many different people, that if you think about it too much you will fail. You have to try to gain the respect of the veteran women by working hard, playing well and getting fit. You also have to get to know the team on a personal level. You have to perform for April (Heinrichs) and the coaches and make them believe in the type of player you are. This is all an everyday process. I can’t look back and say I did one thing, but in the course of the year, I still feel like I have to put in the same effort and work every day. That’s the type of work ethic you have to have to continually earn people’s respect. And I know that no matter how many games I play or goals I score, until I make a roster for a world championship team, I am not going to be satisfied that I’ve got where I want to be. Overall, the process of earning your way onto the national team is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
MEDIA NOTE: Please courtesy ussoccer.com when using excerpts from this report.