Coming off the second most prolific scoring year in U.S. history, forward Abby Wambach returns to the field for the first time in 2005 at the Algarve Cup in Portugal as the USA takes on France on March 9 to open the tournament (11:15 a.m. ET on ussoccer.com’s MatchTracker presented by Philips Electronics).
After scoring 31 goals in 2004, including the game winner in the Olympic gold medal match, and earning her second straight U.S. Soccer Player of the Year Award, Wambach is primed and ready to help lead a new generation of players toward the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup in China. The self-professed “hyper” forward managed to sit still for a few minutes after a team weight lifting session and before an afternoon training to answer 11 questions for ussoccer.com.
ussoccer.com: It’s been quite a while since the National Team has trained together. How does it feel to be back on the field?
Abby Wambach: “Being back on the field with my former and new teammates is always exciting. It’s always a great thing to come back together and see what everyone has been doing on the field and in the weight room, but personally as well. It’s these women who know exactly what my life is like as we all go through the same things and there is a lot of comfort in that.”
ussoccer.com: There are a bunch of young players on this roster. There have only been a few trainings, but how are they doing so far?
AW: “It’s been great. It’s been a long time coming for some younger players to get a chance to play for the full team. It’s always nerve-racking and challenging and it will be a two-way street between the younger and older players to develop into a unit. The older players are going to have to leave their egos behind, be patient, and be able to switch focus from gearing up for a world championship to developing a team. It’s not an easy thing to adjust to learning new people and new styles of play. Patience will be an important aspect of that process. The younger players are going to have to soak up everything they can and trust that what the older players have learned over the years will help lead them to similar success.”
ussoccer.com: Your goal scoring last year was prodigious. What were some of the factors that you give credit to for have such a great year?
AW: “I would say a lot of things. Mia Hamm for one. She always was someone I could look to for passes. I am sure she assisted on quite of few of those goals. I worked hard and prepared myself for the moments that came my way in the Olympics and throughout the year. It didn’t just happen. A lot of hard work went into it. Being a part of a team that puts you in positions where you can score goals is a huge part. It’s one thing to score on headers and another to have a great ball served to your head. It’s not fair that the goal scorer gets all the credit. There are two or more parts to every goal.”
ussoccer.com: Take us back to the winning goal in the Olympic Final. What did you see as Kristine Lilly’s corner kick was flying towards you?
AW: “All game there was a defender (Brazil’s Monica) who was marking me on corners and she kept on getting her head on the ball before me. It was just a slight touch on the ball to redirect it anywhere but my head. On the goal, I saw the ball perfectly. I kind of set her up as all game I was going near post and this time the ball was sent far. So I faked near and went far and it sailed just over her head. I headed it back post and thankfully too high for their post player to clear it away.”
ussoccer.com: There is more than two years until the next Women’s World Cup. How do you think the U.S. team needs to evolve between now and then?
AW: “I think whatever coach U.S. Soccer hires, they are going to have a very integral part of the development of the team’s future. Having more than two years before our next World Cup, it’s plenty of time to gather the right people to secure the best system. It will be a challenge for the new coach and players to tactically and technically develop a team that has just lost some of its most influential players.”
ussoccer.com: France is the first opponent in the Algarve Cup. What are their strengths?
AW: “France is a talented team all over the field, but their success pretty much hinges on Marinette Pichon. She is one of the most dangerous strikers in the game. She gets behind defenses like I’ve never seen before. If she gets a chance, most often she’ll finish it. If we can limit her touches, we can have success against France.”
ussoccer.com: You had a fantastic rapport and playing relationship with Mia Hamm on the forward line. Now that she is retired, is it almost like she left saying, “I’ve taken you as far as I can kid, you can take it from here now.”?
AW: “In a lot of ways that’s true. Mia did all she could do for this country and for me personally. It was a perfect time for her to walk away from the game and I can try to pick up where she left off. Not as if anyone will ever compare to Mia Hamm, but that she feels comfortable walking away makes me feel comfortable moving forward.”
ussoccer.com: Fans that watch you on TV or in person say that you always seem to be having a great time out there. Is that true? And if so, why are you always smiling on the field?
AW: “I would never play soccer unless I had fun doing it. You invest so much time and spend so many days away from friends and family, and make so many sacrifices to be able to play this fantastic game that you have to have fun. It's obvious that everyone who steps on the field and wears our national team jersey plays for the love of the game and that shows in smiles, hard work, goals, wins and world championships.”
ussoccer.com: Kristine Lilly is on 291 caps and going strong. Is it possible to put into words how extraordinary that is?
AW: “Not really. For anyone to play at the level she has maintained for this many years, they would probably not be able to walk. Kristine has taken it to the next level. We all believe she can play and be an impact player through the next World Championship if she wants to. And that is because she has worked so hard to maintain her strength and conditioning. She is also so mentally focused on her main objectives of winning games and enjoying her life. She’s truly amazing.”
ussoccer.com: Are there any parts of your game which you have focused on improving since the Olympics?
AW: “My speed and agility. Being a larger, more physically dominating player, sometimes you lose out in quickness and the ability to move around, so I’ve been working a lot on my first three steps. I realize that it’s going to be a work in progress until the next (Women's) World Cup.”
AW: “It feels like I’ve been asked them all, but I think the one question I wish I would be asked more is ‘who is my favorite soccer player.’ Usually the kids ask me when I started playing soccer and if I get nervous before games, but I wish they would ask me who my favorite player is more often. I would say Mia Hamm, but I would say Julie Foudy takes a close honorable mention. We miss those guys. It just won’t be the be the same eating Indian food at the corner restaurant by our hotel here in the Algarve.”