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U.S. WNT Forward Abby Wambach Discusses the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup

Prior to the U.S. Women's National Team's final Send-Off Series match in advance of the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup in China, forward Abby Wambach took time to answer some questions from the media about the U.S. WNT and the upcoming tournament.

U.S. Women’s National Team Forward Abby Wambach

On the importance of this generation of players winning a championship to put their mark on U.S. Soccer history:
“I think it’s really important. These guys keep asking, ‘Why hasn’t there been much media attention around the team? You guys are undefeated, you guys are so great, you’re going into the World Cup.’ I think I have to pose that question to you guys. It’s you guys who aren’t writing about us. We have a strong-willed team and, yeah, we’re composed of some veterans and more rookies this year but we’re strong and I think we’re confident going into this World Cup. I’m just excited to get a chance to go over there and show the country who we are and really how good we are.”

On her chances of surpassing former U.S. WNT forward Mia Hamm’s goal-scoring record:
“That is so far in the distance for me I don’t even think I can answer that question. Who knows how long I’ll play. Who knows if my legs will keep up with the pace that Mia scored goals. “Right now, my focus is on the World Cup and allowing Kristine (Lilly) to leave this game, if she so chooses, on top and as a World Cup champ.”

On how they have changed since 1999 as players and whether the 1999 Women’s World Cup drew more attention because it was played in the United States:
“I wasn’t actually on the team in 1999. Even at that point I was kind of a long shot to be named on the squad with the women. From ’99 until now, there have been some major changes, obviously personnel, but this team has had to go through some hard times - the professional league being up and running, then folding, now us having such great success in the last couple of years. The fact that it was a perfect summer, that there wasn’t much going on that day, that people really could tune in, that the committee around getting the tournament promoted and getting these players known, that was their life for two years. So, having this tournament be in China, it makes it a little bit more difficult, but I do think that there’s an opportunity to promote and get this team known. Now that you can look back at ’99, take what you learned from that and move into now, to the 2007 World Cup, we as players, and Kate and I as veterans, we just have to go out there and play the best soccer we can, because that’s all we can do. America, like Kate was saying earlier, they wrap their arms around winners and if we can come away from China as champions, I think this team will inevitably be noticed.”

On whether she feels like one of the faces of the team instead of one of the supporting players:
“It’s a perspective change. You’re not a role player. You’re not there to allow Mia or Kristine to be successful, you kind of have to take the responsibility on your shoulders. I still feel the same. I look the same, kind of. I have a few more wrinkles. But the fact is, when a job needs to get done, whatever that may be, there are people on this team who will step up and do it. Scoring goals is my job. That’s what I love to do. Yeah, I was kind of on the borderline, halfway off the team, halfway on the team in 2002 and 2003, now being a leader on this team and being a person that can, hopefully, help the younger and inexperienced players in world championships out, that’s my job. I think that’s what Mia did for me and hopefully I can do it for some of the younger players.”

On how the team has changed on the field since 2003:
“Having a coaching change, obviously, changes a lot of things tactically and technically. A major thing is that, I think, we’re at a place where we can play more freely. In teams of past, it was very structured. We had some younger players that really needed it. Now, these younger players, regardless of whether you know their names or not, I think they’re becoming fast veterans in terms of how long they’ve been in this (U.S. National Team) program. The things that never change are work ethic and the will and the drive of this team that will, I hope, forever stay.”

On how much the league coming and going affected the team and women’s soccer in the U.S.:
“We play a lot more games for our National Team and U.S. Soccer puts us in an environment where we can train nearly every day throughout the year. Sometimes it can be difficult. Other times, it’s kind of the livelihood that we’ve all accepted. All of us are excited about 2009, about a future league potentially starting up. It gets kind of old, after a while, kicking each other. We’re excited about getting a new league started because we can do something that maybe the ‘91ers of old weren’t able to do and that’s to sustain a league rather than just start one. On a personal note, it’s very near and dear to my heart because the only reason that I’m sitting right here now is because I had the chance to play in the WUSA and I got, luckily, drafted to the team that Mia Hamm was playing on and was able to learn and develop a chemistry with her that allowed me to start in the 2003 World Cup.”

On the winning legacy of the previous teams and whether that serves as motivation or adds pressure on the team to win:
“I live in the house that I live in and I drive the car that I drive in every single day because these women afforded me that opportunity. They paved the way, they are the pioneers. They’ll probably be the first to say that there were many women that came before them, but really, for me in my life, they were very instrumental and inspirational. They gave me this opportunity to have the opportunity to play for this team and to be able to play just this as my source of income. It is the most motivating thing in my life to prove and say to them, whether it’s directly or indirectly, you guys did good. What you see from here on out, the result, is championships and winning games. I think it’s nice to see Kristine still playing because every time I question that or anytime I’m getting down on myself or on the team, I’ll look right at Kristine and say, man, she is a big reason I’m sitting here right now and living the life that I’m living.”

On whether there is complacency as far as media coverage and whether more could be done to promote the U.S. WNT:
“I think a big thing is, they call it the Mia-factor. You lose a lot of attention when the most well-known star on your team retires. And when you focus all of your energy on one person for so many years, a lot of people can get left in the shadows. I think Kristine Lilly is perfect example of that. Obviously the iron-woman of soccer, but even a great story. With Mia, when she was around, it was really difficult to get to know a lot of the other faces. I think, a lot of things go into this team not being as well known as the ‘99ers were. One of the things is marketing from all of our sponsors and from, even all the organizations. There’s always more you can do. It’s nothing that we’re complaining about, but we now are on the brink of going to China for the World Cup for 2007. We believe that we have something to say. We have a process that we believe in and that we shed blood, sweat and tears over. We’re not the type of team that’s going to force it down your throat. We want people to come and we want people to appreciate what we have for what it is. Just being in the United States in ’99 really helped, and the Mia-factor. I think that when this teams gets home from China, hopefully with a World Cup championship, this team will be noticed.”

On playing Finland:
“Finland is a very, very good team. We played them at the Algarve Cup. I remember that game, it was just kind of a battle. It was a windy day and it was one of those games that could have gone either way. We had more of the run of play and we had more of the attack but it will be nice to see how far we’ve come since Portugal. We’ve had a lot of time to play together, a lot of time to kind of hone our skills and to really narrow our focus into what we’re doing. I’m just really excited to get out there and kick somebody else. It’s always way more fun to kick another team.”

On the Germany game in 2003 and what is different from this team from that ’03 team:
“This team is maybe 180 degrees different in terms of what it was in ’03. We have newer faces, fresher legs and I think an instinct and a desire. Most of the players on this team, all but four have never won a World Cup championship and that is including myself. I remember that day. I was pretty bummed because I wasn’t sure if some of the older players were going to come back. I wasn’t sure how things would work out, if I would even make the Olympic roster. For me, personally, my mark scored the first goal that day and I’ve been almost training with that in mind ever since so I have a little bit of a revenge factor. We got a little in the Olympics but I’ve never won a World Cup and I really think it’s important to know that this team is a very different team than it was in ’03. To answer the question from earlier, I do think this team beats the ’99 World Cup team.”

On whether the team is overconfident going into the 2007 FIFA World Cup:
“I think confidence is potentially the thing that wins you championships. You have to play hard. They say defense wins championships but, as a forward I can make 15 mistakes in a game and score two goals and have a great game. For me, confidence has been the difference in my career. I remember in ’02 that I was kind of wavering and it was because of my confidence. I didn’t think I deserved to be there. I do think that confidence will play a major factor with some of these younger players. But, if my confidence is unwavering, I think that rubs off onto the other players and that sense of lack of pressure and it gives them the ability to just play. So, the more confident this team is, I think the better we are.”

On how well-prepared the team is to deal with adversity considering they have not lost in regulation in almost two years:
“We practice against ourselves in practice all the time and we play, a lot of times, the starting team against the non-starting team. Often times you’d be surprised to know that our non-starting team scores goals against us and we have to be down and come back from a one, sometimes even a two-zero deficit. That doesn’t sit so well with us, and the fact that it doesn’t sit so well, in terms of us not ever giving up and just our competitive nature, it shows me, and it’s been going on for the past couple years, that this team does not like to lose. I think a big reason why we haven’t gone down very many goals in the past couple years is that reason. Who knows what will happen in the World Cup, but I do know this team has the veteran leadership and the will, that whatever is going to happen, we’re going to be able to overcome it. We’re a team and that’s just the groundwork that this team has always gone by that no matter what happens, if you come together as a team, you can figure it out.”

On how her game has evolved since the 2004 Olympics:
“I’ve become a more complete player. I now kind of pick and choose my battles in terms of being physical. I’m not necessarily going in reckless like I feel that I used to. I get a lot fewer yellow cards. I had to sit out a game for a yellow card suspension in the Olympics and we ended up tying that game. After that I’ve tried to make it a point to be a little bit more of a responsible player for my team because I think that my team needs me on the field to win games. I know that it’s going to be that way for the World Cup this year.”

On how she is feeling, physically, heading into the World Cup:
“I feel great. I think this team has done everything and has prepared in the proper way to send us off on the right foot. We leave on Monday. We’re going to be there a couple weeks, training, before the World Cup starts for us on (Sept. 11). We’re just excited to get it started. I almost wish the game was tomorrow. Physically, my legs feel great. Mentally, that might be more of a challenge being over in a different country.”

On China:
“China is a really different place. I’m really into traveling, so that’s good. The first time I ever went was in ’96 with the regional team. It wasn’t with the full squad. I was very excited to get home, I missed home a lot. That was my first major trip away from home. But this is going to be different from any other trip that I’ve taken anywhere because it’s a World Cup, because of the grandiose-ness of what this means to me, personally, and to this team and to soccer around the world. I know China is going to make it special and I know they’re doing everything they can for the Olympics, so I do feel like it’s going to be a different experience than it has been in the past and I’m just excited to get over there and get it started.”

On whether there will be fewer distractions in China than there were in the U.S. for the World Cup:
“I think that there will be fewer distractions in that we won’t be able to get on our cell phones as frequently or as easily and call people around here and have the normal way of life that we have here in America. We’re going to be dealing with the rigors of being overseas and all that, but I do know that U.S. Soccer and FIFA have worked together to get us over there and to put us up in the right places so that our lives will be not very much different, obviously being in another country will make it different, but our lives will be similar.”