20 for 20: Abby Wambach's Most Memorable Career Highlights

There have been countless highlights in Abby Wambach’s long and illustrious career. In honor of the jersey number she wore for so many years with pride and class, here are 20 of the best.

Abby’s First Goal – April 27, 2002

Just a few months removed from her final college game, Abby’s first of what would be many goals in the U.S. uniform came against Finland at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Calif. It was her first start and second cap. Wambach opened the scoring in the 7th minute off an assist from Kristine Lilly on the first of 15 assists that Lilly would provide to Abby during her career. Lilly blew by her defender on the left flank, turned the corner at the end line and played a crisp pass to Wambach that was a half-step behind her.  Wambach smoothly collected the ball as she spun towards the goal and smacked a hard shot into the left corner with her right foot from 10 yards out. Abby had earned her first cap on Sept. 9, 2001, in the first match of the Nike U.S. Cup. The Twin Towers came down two days later, and the final two games of the tournament were canceled.

Goal vs. Norway in 2003 Women’s World Cup Quarterfinal – October 1, 2003

Norway was the defending Olympic champion, and the two world powers who had won every gold medal in a world championship to that point met in a colossal quarterfinal match-up. It was Abby’s first knockout round game in a world championship event, and she set the stage for numerous clutch performances by scoring the game’s lone goal – on a header, of course. The 24th-minute goal came off a free kick about 35 yards out in the middle of the field. Cat Reddick took the straight-on free kick and lobbed it in front of the goal where Abby was able to post up her defender and get a head on the ball to re-direct it off the hand of diving Norwegian goalkeeper Bente Nordby and into the lower right corner. A tremendous U.S. defensive effort against a talented Norwegian attack made that goal stand up, and the USA knocked Norway out of not only the World Cup but also the 2004 Olympics, as the tournament served as qualifying for the Athens Games.

Hat Trick in 2004 Algarve Cup Final vs. Norway – March 20, 2004

It was the second hat trick of her career and just goals 21-23, but Abby’s performance against Norway in the championship game of the 2004 Algarve Cup gave an early indication that she would become a force to be reckoned with at the top of the international game. Abby scored in the 30th minute as well as the 39th and 51st, off assists from Mia Hamm, Lindsay Tarpley and Julie Foudy, and also assisted on the game’s other goal to Tarpley, as the USA won the third of 10 Algarve Cup titles. 


Winning Goal in 2004 Olympic Final – August 26, 2004

With the USA locked in a tight battle with Brazil in the 2004 Olympic gold medal game in Athens, Greece, and the margin of victory sure to be razor-thin, Abby showed early in her career why she would become one of the biggest clutch performers in U.S. Soccer history. With the score knotted at 1-1 in overtime, Abby rose to meet a Kristine Lilly corner kick from the left, out-jumped her defender and headed the ball powerfully on goal. A Brazilian defender was standing on the goal line, but the ball skimmed off the top of her head and just under the cross-bar to give the USA a 2-1 lead and eventually the gold medal. That victory gave the golden generation, which had spearheaded the teams that won the 1991 and 1999 World Cups and the 1996 Olympics, the send-off they deserved from the top of the podium


Goals vs. Iceland in Rochester after Olympics – September 25, 2004

After scoring the winning goal in the 2004 Olympic gold medal game, Abby returned home to play the USA’s first game after the Olympics in her hometown Rochester, N.Y. She did not disappoint the fans. In front of a wild sold-out crowd at Frontier Field in the pre-Sahlen’s Stadium days, Wambach scored the USA’s first two goals and then assisted on a Mia Hamm score to make it 3-0 after 52 minutes. Amazingly, Iceland scored three goals in a six-minute span in the second half (a feat not accomplished against the USA before or since) to tie the game, but Heather Mitts helped make it a perfect homecoming for Abby, scoring in the third minute of second half stoppage time right before the final whistle.

Five Second-Half Goals vs. Ireland - October 23, 2004

Wambach tied a record that was held by three other players (and two more have since then scored five), but it was the way she did it that was even more notable. The match against Ireland, at the beautiful Reliant Stadium on the Fan Celebration Tour following the gold medal run at the 2004 Olympics, was frustratingly tied 0-0 at halftime. Abby then scored five consecutive goals beginning moments after the break, scoring in the 47th, and then four more in the final 15 minutes of the game, for the final 5-0 result. Four of the goals were assisted by Mia Hamm.

92nd Minute Game-Winner vs. Iceland in Richmond -- October 8, 2006

It seems that Iceland has always played the USA tough, and this match was no exception. Despite dominating the game, the USA was able to get just one shot past goalkeeper Thora Helgadottir and seemed to be destined for a 1-0 victory when a Heather Mitts foul led to a penalty kick in the 89th minute. Iceland then shockingly tied the game on just its second shot on goal. It’s well known Abby hates to lose, and in that instance, a tie was as good as a loss, so as fans would see so many times in her career, she stepped up in crunch time. With four minutes of stoppage time added, Abby took a pass from Stephanie Lopez at the top of the penalty box on the left side and held off a defender as she powered her way into the area. As two defenders closed her down, she struck a rolling shot across the face of the goal, off the right post and into the net. Said Abby: “I toe-poked it and it literally rolled and rolled and rolled and rolled. It was not the prettiest of goals, but some of them aren't. And that's what true strikers do, they just score. It's not how, it's how many."


Two Goals in Women’s World Cup Qualifying on a Bum Ankle – November 22, 2006

Abby badly sprained her ankle during a tournament in South Korea in early November, and by the time Women’s World Cup qualifying rolled around in late November, she was still hurting. In 2006, the World Cup qualifying was an anomaly. There were only four teams in the tournament and to qualify for the 2007 Women’s World Cup, the USA had to win just one game, which turned out to be against Mexico at The Home Depot Center in Carson, California. Despite hobbling around the field, and with a massive amount of athletic tape on her ankle, Wambach gutted it out and scored both goals in the USA’s 2-0 win to qualify for the World Cup, the first off a rebound from a Carli Lloyd shot and the second on a spectacular header on a Kristine Lilly cross.


Two Goals vs. Sweden in 2007 WWC – September 14, 2007

As the USA had drawn its opening game of the 2007 Women’s World Cup 2-2 against Korea DPR (after coming from a goal down when North Korea scored twice with Abby off the field getting a gash on her head stitched up), the second match of Group B against Sweden carried tremendous importance. Wambach led the USA to victory by converting a penalty kick in the 34th minute after Lori Chalupny was taken down the box. She then sealed the game with a spectacular half-volley in the 58th minute. Kristine Lilly lofted a perfect pass to Wambach’s chest inside the penalty area, and she deftly brought the ball down between the two Swedes before crushing a 12-yard half-volley so powerfully that goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl didn’t even move.

100th Goal in Hometown – July 19, 2009

Abby scored her 99th goal on July 2, 2008, against Norway in Fredrikstad, and played two more goalless games before breaking her leg against Brazil on July 16 in San Diego. Thus, she had to wait more than a year for goal number 100. Showing a flair for the dramatic, in her second game back from injury and in her hometown of Rochester, N.Y., Abby scored her 100th goal with just 12 minutes left in the game, giving the USA a 1-0 victory against Canada and becoming the fifth U.S. player to score 100 goals.

Goal in Quarterfinal of 2011 Women’s World Cup – July 10, 2011

Perhaps her most famous goal, and certainly one of the most dramatic, if not most important, was Wambach’s header against Brazil in the dying seconds of overtime in the 2011 Women’s World Cup quarterfinal in Dresden, Germany, that rescued the USA. The brave header off an assist from Megan Rapinoe tied the game at 2-2 and sent the match – which had seen the USA play a woman down for more than hour – into penalty kicks, where the USA would triumph, 5-3. (And yes, Abby made her PK as well). The victory came on the 12th anniversary of the USA winning the 1999 Women’s World Cup in penalty kicks and sparked a buzz around the tournament and the team that persists today. The 122nd minute goal was at the time the latest ever scored in a FIFA competition.


Goal vs. France in 2011 Women’s World Cup Semifinal – July 13, 2011

France gave the USA all it could handle in the semifinal of the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Monchengladbach. Although the USA took an early lead through a Lauren Cheney goal, France tied the game in the 55th minute and for a while looked to be the team that would score next. The USA made some tactical changes, the momentum shifted and once again Abby stepped up. Off a corner kick from the right side, Cheney struck her service to the far post where Wambach charged in to bury a towering header from inside the six-yard box for the 2-1 lead. Substitute Alex Morgan would clinch the game with a goal in the 82nd minute off an assist from substitute Megan Rapinoe and the USA was off to the World Cup Final.


Goal vs. Japan in 2011 Women’s World Cup Final – July 17, 2011

It should have been the winning goal in the World Cup Final. Alas, it was not to be, but when Abby headed home Alex Morgan’s short cross in the 104th minute in Frankfurt, Germany, to give the USA a 2-1 lead, it seemed as if the Americans had done enough to win the World Cup. The driven header came after a perfect run and was hit with perfect technique as she re-directed the ball into the net. Japanese legend Homare Sawa would famously score in the 117th minute to tie the game, and the USA would lose in penalty kicks, overshadowing what was yet another clutch goal from Abby. It was a loss she would keep with her for years, spurring her and the teammates to win the 2012 Olympics and the 2015 Women’s World Cup, both in championship games against Japan. It was one of just 10 matches in which Abby has scored that the USA failed to win (two losses and eight ties). 

Goal vs. France in 2012 Olympics – July 25, 2012

France shocked the USA with two early goals in the opening match of the 2012 Olympics, but no one panicked, least of all Abby. Down 2-0 after 14 minutes, Abby started the amazing comeback with a goal in the 18th minute off a corner kick from Megan Rapinoe. Towering France center-back Wendie Renard, who stands 6-foot-1, had the assignment of marking the USA’s 5-11 striker, but Wambach got the better of the match-up on this service, losing her mark before rising above two French defenders to athletically loop a header from the right side into the far left corner. Alex Morgan tied the game in the 31st minute, and Carli Lloyd put the USA ahead for good in the 56th before Morgan clinched the game with another goal in the 66th minute. The Americans were on their way to yet another gold medal run.

Goal vs. Colombia in 2012 Olympics After Getting Punched in the Face – July 28, 2012

Abby has taken her share of punishment from opponents over the years, but never before had she been sucker-punched off the ball during the run of play. In the second group match at the 2012 Olympics, the USA squared off against up-and-coming Colombia at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland. In the 39th minute, as the USA was on an attack down the left side, Wambach was making a run up the middle and was punched in the face by Lady Andrade. Abby went down in a heap and rose with a big shiner on her right eye and an even bigger chip on her shoulder. (The referee missed the foul in real time, but Andrade was later suspended after video replays clearly showed the assault.) In the 74th minute, Wambach let her play speak, scoring the clinching goal off a nifty give-and-go with Tobin Heath, and then pointed to her right eye as she celebrated the goal.

Penalty Kick vs. Canada in 2012 Olympic Semifinal – August 6, 2012

In one of the wildest and most dramatic games in U.S. history, the USA came from behind three times to tie the match before the 123rd minute Alex Morgan goal won the game in the final minute of stoppage time in the second overtime period. But first, the USA had to get to OT, and it was Abby who knotted the score in the 80th minute on a pressure-packed penalty kick, sliding the ball into the lower left corner to tie the game at 3-3. The PK had been called after the Canadian goalkeeper was whistled for holding the ball too long, giving the USA an indirect free kick inside the penalty area. The ensuing shot was ruled to have hit a Canadian defender on the arm, resulting in a kick from the spot and Wambach’s ice cold finish.

Four Goals vs. Korea Republic, Breaking Mia Hamm’s World Record – June 20, 2013

When Abby scored 27 goals in 2012 to up her career total to 152, it became clear that Mia Hamm’s world record of 158 would fall at some point in 2013. Abby scored goal 156 on a late game penalty kick against the Korea Republic on June 15 in the first of two games against the Taegeuk Ladies. She headed into the next match needing two to tie and three to break the record, and amazingly (well, maybe not for Abby) passed Hamm by scoring a hat trick inside of 30 minutes to the delight of nearly 20,000 frenzied fans. She added a fourth goal for good measure in the 5-0 win, prompting a congratulatory tweet from none other than the President of the United States. #ChasingMia #ChasingAbby.

Goal vs. Nigeria in 2015 Women’s World Cup – June 16, 2015

It would be her last World Cup goal and a mightily important one. With the USA locked in a tense battle with Nigeria and struggling to kick-start its attack at the World Cup, Wambach injected a vitally important bolt of energy into the tournament. Off a corner kick from Megan Rapinoe from the right side, Wambach made a rampaging run to the far post to smash home a full volley with her preferred left foot just before halftime, sending the USA into the break with a lead and increased confidence. The USA would win the match 1-0 and finish atop the “Group of Death,” setting the path that would lead to the championship game in Vancouver and the third star on the jersey. It was Abby’s 14th World Cup goal, tying her for second all-time in the tournament.

Pep Talk at Halftime of USA-China in 2015 Women’s World Cup Quarterfinal – June 26, 2015

By the time the World Cup quarterfinal rolled around, Abby knew that her role had shifted, but as always, she was willing to contribute in any way she could. With the score tied 0-0, she urged the squad in the halftime huddle to “get a goal in the first 10 minutes.” (We are paraphrasing here, as her language wasn’t exactly PG-rated.) Carli Lloyd scored six minutes into the second half on a spectacular header, and the score held to advance the Americans to the Women’s World Cup semifinal. The passion and leadership in her speech was vintage Abby.


Abby Enters 2015 WWC Final – July 5, 2015

The USA’s -- and Carli Lloyd’s -- monumental performance in the 2015 World Cup Final, which effectively put the game’s result beyond doubt with 35 minutes remaining, allowed head coach Jill Ellis to give curtain calls to two veterans playing in their final Women’s World Cup match. When Abby entered the game in the 79th minute for Tobin Heath, Lloyd took off the captain’s band and wrapped it around Wambach’s left arm, creating one of the most emotional and iconic moments of the Women’s World Cup. Christie Rampone entered with four minutes left to play, and following the match, Wambach put the armband on her to wear as the duo lifted the Women’s World Cup Trophy together.