Abby Wambach: Taking a Closer Look at Team USA's Superstar Striker

Sam WestmorelandFeatured ColumnistJuly 15, 2011

MOENCHENGLADBACH, GERMANY - JULY 13:  Abby Wambach of the USA celebrates as her side takes a 1-0 lead during the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011 Semi Final match between France and USA at Borussia Park on July 13, 2011 in Moenchengladbach, Germany.  (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Scott Heavey/Getty Images

When Abby Wambach fired a picturesque header past French goalkeeper Berangere Sapowicz to give the United States a 2-1 lead over France in the semifinals of the FIFA Women's World Cup, it became quite clear that the 31-year-old striker's reputation as a clutch performer was well deserved.

Not that fans didn't know it already, after Wambach had managed to keep the Americans' dreams of their first World Cup title since 1999 alive with a second beautiful header in the 122nd minute of their quarterfinal win over Brazil, forcing a shootout which the U.S. would eventually win.

For most players, those kinds of goals create legends and ensure that your name will go down in history.

For Wambach, though, the goals were simply the icing on what has been one of the greatest careers in the history of the sport.

After all, when you score 121 goals in your international career, including 12 in World Cup competition, even something like scoring a pair of goals that single-handedly kept your team from defeat on the biggest stage of them all is just another day at the office. 

If you haven't followed Wambach's career until now (and let's face it, most sports fans outside of the diehard football fans haven't followed women's soccer very much at all over the years), know this: Wambach was destined for greatness from the instant she set foot on a pitch. 

Abby Wambach's impact on Team USA extends well beyond the stat sheet.
Abby Wambach's impact on Team USA extends well beyond the stat sheet.Martin Rose/Getty Images

In her first youth soccer league season, she was transferred from the girls' team to the boys', because she scored 27 goals in three games.

She starred in high school as well, garnering National Player of the Year honors her senior year from Umbro and the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

She went on to star at the University of Florida and still holds the school's records for assists, points, game-winning goals, hat tricks and career goals.

Since then, she's been one of the most explosive, dynamic scorers the U.S. national team has ever had, but the stats only tell half the story about what Wambach means to this team on this run to the World Cup final. 

You can't talk about Wambach without bringing up the toughness and grit with which she plays the sport.

It is the trait that this American team, who have scored six goals in the 80th minute or later in this World Cup, have come to embody, and none do it better than Wambach. 

Consider the 2007 Women's World Cup, when she scored six goals in six games with Team USA despite receiving 11 stitches in her head from a collision in a match with North Korea. 

Or consider the fact that Wambach is playing in the current Cup with a right Achilles injury that has pestered her for nearly a year.

But that hasn't stopped her from scoring three goals from the air in this tournament as the U.S. team's spiritual leader. 

Wambach talked to the New York Post about the injury, and how she never for a second considered resting during the tournament. 

“There’ve been a lot of questions about my health, my Achilles,” Wambach said. “If you’re feeling pain going into this game, the final, there’s something wrong with you.

This is the pinnacle, the dream we all set. We have unfinished business. We want to have a storybook ending. The road we’ve taken isn’t the road many thought we’d take, but we’re in the final and we have a chance.”

Her impact on this team in this tournament cannot be adequately quantified or understood. She has been precisely what the Americans needed in this tournament; the playmaker, the goal-scorer, the crunch-time finisher.

She has performed brilliantly when it matters the most, and in doing so, she has cemented her legend in the football world. 

Now Wambach has managed to guide this team through to a place they haven't been since 1999 with that same combination of talent, determination and grit. They stand on the edge of grabbing the title of world champions, of becoming the best team in the world for the first time since 1999.

The pressure is on in a big way to step up and deliver on the biggest stage, and they're in for a serious fight from an incredibly talented Japanese team. 

But given the way she's performed throughout her career, I'd say that's just what Wambach wants.

She thrives in these pressure-packed situations, and if her play this summer has been any indication, we can expect another stellar performance on Sunday.