She’s won two Olympic Gold medals. She holds the all-time record for goals scored in international play. Abby Wambach has achieved everything she ever dreamed of in soccer—except a World Cup win. This summer in Canada, the 35-year-old Wambach will have one last shot. In an interview with STACK, she described in her own words what the World Cup means to her.
“Preparing for the World Cup is a little different than anything else because you have to focus yourself on only that goal.
“It’s kind of like how in high school, at the beginning of a season, your view is wide and you have many games to think about. But as the season wears on, you narrow your focus to winning your conference and then the playoffs and then winning a state championship. At each stage, you have to center your attention more and more closely on what’s at hand.
“My only personal goal for this World Cup is to win it. I don’t care about a single individual goal. I don’t care if I score one goal the entire time. I don’t care if I have one assist. I want to win games, get points, make it out of our group and eventually find ourselves standing on top of the podium.
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“Just getting to the Cup is the culmination of many years of preparation and hard work, so to be quite honest, I’m thrilled that it’s here. [laughs]
“All of us have made so many sacrifices, not just this year, but the last two, three, 10 years or more. They say that training for a World Cup or the Olympics takes four years, but the truth is that you’re training for it your whole life. People on our team have missed birthdays, proms, weddings—you name it. Playing for this team is the greatest job ever, but some things that come with it aren’t nearly so normal.
“My own journey started many years ago when I was at a youth camp where we watched footage of the U.S. Women’s Team at the 1995 World Cup and the 1996 Olympics. [The U.S. team won titles at both events.] I remember sitting there, surrounded by 200 other girls at this ODP [Olympic Development Program] camp in the Northeast, and just thinking to myself, Wouldn’t that be amazing. Seeing Shannon MacMillan scoring a winning goal [against Norway in an Olympic semifinal match] as a sub.
“The thrill of watching that team win over and over again gave me the ambition to want to play in—and win—a World Cup. And I think a lot of the players on today’s team feel that way.
“Now that I’m considered an idol for some young ladies—that’s hard for me to relate to. I can understand it, because when I was growing up, I looked up to Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers and even the old school April Heinrichs. But I see myself as no different from anyone else. I truly do. I do something abnormal. I have a job that’s a little different from what most people do. And I’m proud of that. I think it’s pretty cool to be able to travel around the world and play a game for a career. It’s actually the best thing ever.
“I’ve had some pretty difficult bouts with injuries, and that can be demoralizing in moments. It must be like how older people feel when they age and begin to feel more aches and pains. It’s a frustration. But at the end of the day, I’d rather be doing nothing else.
“I don’t look at our number one ranking going into the World Cup as anything important, because the truth is that the real number one team will be standing on top of the podium at the end of play. I don’t care what you are ranked going in, it’s what you’re ranked going out that counts. And hopefully, we’re going to be that top team.
“Our team is physically dominant. We can control the game in the air—we have some great headers. Our set pieces are going to be fantastic. We have so many players who can win the Golden Boot [awarded to the tournament’s top goal scorer], who can score big-time goals in big-time moments.
“I am probably the team’s most emotional player. That probably works both to my advantage and my disadvantage. I want to win so bad that I’m willing to do whatever it takes, and sometimes that comes out in a way that people can take wrong. I am very intense and I expect the best—not only from myself, but from the people around me. And I don’t believe that it’s just about playing the game. You have to do all the little things off the field to allow yourself to play the best you can on the field.”