U.S. forward Abby Wambach scores goals, lots of them. In fact, she’s scored 50 in her first 66 matches for the USA, the second-most prolific strike-rate in U.S. history. Though still just 25 years old, Wambach has developed into a team leader and a presence feared by opponents on the field. She took time out from the USA’s training in Portugal for the Algarve Cup to discuss helping along the next generation of U.S. forwards, an amazing act of charity, and, if you’re a defender, why you might want to look out if she’s coming for a head ball.
ussoccer.com: The U.S. team has been in Portugal for a few days now. How has training been going so far?
Abby Wambach: “Training has been great. We all are getting excited for the opening game against China. Portugal is a favorite trip of most of the players, and even though we’re overseas, it doesn’t really feel like it. We had the two weeks (of training camp) at The Home Depot Center where we really could focus on the things we needed to work on, and right now we are just tying up loose ends and getting ready for the tournament.”
ussoccer.com: What do you like about what is sort of a “new look” U.S. Women’s National Team?
AW: “I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘new-look’ team. (U.S. head coach Greg Ryan’s) philosophy and what he brings to the table is new, but the vision for this team has always been the same, and will continue to be the same, and that’s ultimately winning every time we step on the field. Right now, people are losing the fear of making mistakes and that makes a huge difference in the opportunity to be successful and reach the potential that we all believe we can achieve individually. That will ultimately lead to success collectively.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve been working a lot outside of the team environment on what you perceive are your weaknesses. How’s that been going?
AW: “Whenever I step away from a training camp or tournament atmosphere, I always take the bad with the good. Whatever Greg and I decide I need to work on, are the things that I take home with me, because this is not only my job, but something I am very passionate about. If I am trying to become the best forward in the world, I have to have that mentality throughout the rest of my career, and if I think I don’t have any weakness, I am sorely mistaken.”
ussoccer.com: The U.S. team has had some great success recently at the Algarve Cup. What does the team like about this tournament?
AW: “Every game we play at this tournament is meaningful and has an impact on what game we play in the placement round. How many goals we score, how many we allow, all take on vital importance in this tournament as only the group winner goes to the final. It’s a bit of a scrappy tournament and that evens out the playing field out a lot, which makes it more competitive. You can get a few goals scored on you, or tie one game, and not end up in final, so perfection is almost necessary to get into the championship.”
ussoccer.com: The U.S. team recently played two of its Algarve Cup opponents at the Four Nations Tournament in China. How do those games affect the coming games against China and France?
AW: “I think even in just a short period of time, one month, we are a different team. We have a few different players here at the Algarve who will provide us with different looks. Having that month, to train on our own for two weeks and then to be with the team for two weeks, was an important training time for us. It’s important so we can come to the Algarve and play these teams that we’ve seen already and try to dominate them even more.”
ussoccer.com: Speed-skater Joey Cheek just won two medals at the Winter Olympics in Italy. He donated his bonuses to “Right to Play,” the humanitarian organization for which you traveled recently to Uganda and Rwanda. How do you feel about his gifts?
AW: “For a selfless person like Joey to give “Right to Play” $40,000 of his winnings from the USOC, which then led to hundreds of thousands of additional dollars donated by other companies, means that he has saved the lives of so many people. This is the kind of effort that the organization needs because it snowballs. And what a beautiful memory to take from winning two Olympic medals, using that to save people’s lives. If I ever get a chance to win another medal, I pledge to do the same thing.”
ussoccer.com: You are one of the most willing baby-sitters on the team for Christie Rampone’s baby and a great playmate for Tina Frimpong’s five-year old. Is it because you are a kid at heart?
AW: “Absolutely. I’ve always been a person who loves being around kids and I believe it’s definitely because of my child-like behavior. But more importantly, it shows me how amazing Christie and Tina are for being able to be top soccer players but also fantastic parents. For them to share their lives with us and the world is a really amazing and beautiful thing.”
ussoccer.com: You reached 50 career goals for the U.S. Women’s National in fewer games than anyone but Michelle Akers. Is that significant for you in any way?
AW: “Significant may not be the right word. I didn’t realize it happened until after, but being able to say I achieved something in so little time just goes to show me, and any future member of this team, that a lot can happen in a short period of time. It took a lot of hard work, some luck, and the veterans opening their hearts and minds to a younger player and giving me the opportunity to score a lot of goals. I wonder how many assists Mia (Hamm) had out of those 50.”
ussoccer.com: Can you talk about the young forwards on the team right now, Heather O’Reilly, Amy Rodriguez, Natasha Kai and Lauren Cheney to name a few?
AW: “We have nowhere to go but up as a forward line. Moving forward, we have to have some of these young players look at themselves in the mirror, and say that they are going to be that person to take the responsibility to help this team. Right now, we need a young forward to do that. Amy Rodriguez and Lauren Cheney can hold the ball extremely well for their age. Heather O’Reilly’s work ethic and speed will make her forever dangerous. Tash is one of those players, and I see a lot of myself in her, that has the ability and fearlessness to go up for head balls. It’s important to be patient with these young players and teach them the things I’ve been taught by Mia (Hamm) and learned by watching Michelle (Akers) and by playing alongside Kristine (Lilly). If they are going to have that same success, we have to show them the way.”
ussoccer.com: What kind of goal do you enjoy more…plowing through two defenders to score a header, or a slaloming dribble and clinical finish?
AW: “No question. I think you can count how many goals I’ve scored with my head. Any time there is physical contact and I score a goal, coming off my head, or my shoulder or my leg, I enjoy it. Hard-working goals are more satisfying then spinning a ball into the corner.”
ussoccer.com: In your mind, who are the three best forwards currently playing in the world that are NOT on the U.S. team?
AW: “Birgit Prinz (of Germany), because she is a true goal scorer. She finds anyway, shape or form to get the ball in the back of the net and as a forward, that quality cannot be taught. Marta (of Brazil) because she is skill-wise the best player in the world right now, and will probably continue to be for the next 10 years. She’s dangerously deceptive. I have to say Marinette Pinchon (of France) would be right up there too. I think she has similar goal scoring qualities to Birgit, but has more slashing speed and the sophistication of her runs is impeccable. She puts herself in goal-scoring positions every chance she gets.”
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