Wambach making grand statements
2013 has been very good to Abby Wambach.
She broke Mia Hamm’s international career goal-scoring record. She is having a strong year for her country and her club team, Western New York, which won the NWSL Shield (regular-season leader) and reached the playoff final. She was the subject of a documentary. She got married just before a series of US friendlies against New Zealand.
And 2013 was her first full year as the holder of a card that gives her one free meal at Chipotle every day. After all that, "herself" is still one of Wambach’s least favorite topics.
Ask about her NWSL season (11 goals, eight assists and second place in MVP voting), and she first launches into an optimistic take on the strength of the league as a whole, especially the NWSL-MLS partnership in Portland.
"It gives MLS owners a good backdrop of what they can do to make women’s soccer viable and make money," Wambach said.
Steer the conversation back to her club, and she’ll lament her team’s loss in the league final.
"I feel like I had a good season," Wambach said. "The competitor inside me doesn’t equate the season to be a success because we didn’t come away with the championship. I could care less about stats as long as we come away with the trophy in the end, and we didn’t. I would rather be a Portland Thorns player who has the worst stats in the league but has a championship ring."
She enjoyed the documentary of her life (Abby Head On) and is especially grateful to the people who took the time to give their perspectives on her life, saying it made her “feel very loved.” But she had some reservations.
"I was reluctant to do it only because it seems a little narcissistic to do anything like that."
How about her wedding to Western New York teammate Sarah Huffman and the fact that she’s now part of what surely must be the only married couple on the same US sports team outside of World Team Tennis or some long-gone co-ed volleyball team? She spoke about it last weekend while the US team was in San Antonio to play Australia, but she’s not interested in saying any more on the subject.
"I just think I said everything I needed to say. I appreciate all the love and support we’re getting."
And she appreciates the Chipotle card. Just don’t expect her to go crazy with it. She restrains herself, partially out of politeness and partially because a daily burrito bowl would be a lot of food.
"The whole point with any kind of celebrity card or whatnot — they kind of rely on the quote-unquote celebrity not to abuse it. Even though I can use it every day, I choose not to. I love Chipotle and I have gone back-to-back days before, don’t get me wrong. I earn the right to use it, usually after a hard session. The way I like my burrito bowls are packed with pretty much everything that they offer.
"For me, everything is in moderation."
— Abby Wambach (@AbbyWambach) October 13, 2012
Call it moderation, call it humility, call it a desire for privacy, or call it a Mia Hamm-style reluctance to be in the spotlight, at least without her teammates. Wambach is as cautious in the public eye as she is fearless on the field. She’s not likely to argue with people on Twitter. She’ll participate in charitable causes with her teammates, but she rarely stands alone.
She spoke in-depth about her marriage with the Associated Press last weekend, explaining why she wasn’t likely to talk about it beyond that.
“I’ve never been asked a question in my soccer world about my relationship, rightfully so because it shouldn’t matter because it doesn’t have anything to do with soccer,” Wambach told the Associated Press. “But I realize I’m a public figure and people are curious about my private life. I’m honestly not the kind of person who wants to step up to a podium, test the microphone and be like, ‘Hey, I’m homosexual and this is who I am, hear me roar.’ That’s not who I am.”
And that aspect of her personality hasn’t changed over the years. She simply doesn’t want the focus to be on her.
Has her game changed? Maybe a little. In the USA’s 4-0 win over Australia on Sunday, she scored an atypical goal — taking a cross a couple of yards outside the post and flicking it with the outside of her foot. She admits she’s not the trickiest player, but it worked. After the goal, she looked sheepish and pained, but she attributes that to the artificial turf in San Antonio — for someone who has gone on record opposing the turf in the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the seam-ridden surface was particularly painful to see, as much as she enjoyed the fans’ atmosphere in the Alamodome.
The goal was “a little bit of skill, a little bit of luck, and then the face after was a little bit of pain from scraping my knee on probably the worst turf in all of the United States of America,” Wambach said. But she was frustrated that she missed a couple of opportunities in the air.
“When you have a certain amount of time off, your timing is off,” Wambach said. “All that stuff is just timing, and you just have to remind your body.”
So she laughs a little when asked if she’s getting better, saying it’s a funny question to ask a 33-year-old. But her game is slowly evolving. She’s getting better at certain aspects of the game, such as flicking the ball with her head to an onrushing teammate.
“The older you get, your body slows down a little bit, you have to use your brain a little bit more,” Wambach said.
And an older, wiser Wambach will still be someone who makes her grandest statements with her head and her feet.