For weeks and months after she won the last, elusive trophy to cap her historic career, Abby Wambach was looking for the answer. Could she summon the energy to try out for one last hurrah on the U.S. women’s national soccer team? Or was this gnawing sensation that her time was up too much to ignore.
“I wish someone would just tell me what to do,’’ Wambach said the last time she publicly commented on her future.
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Until, that is, today.
Wambach, the all-time leading goal-scorer in international soccer, has announced that she is retiring from soccer. After the U.S. women’s national team completes in Victory Tour against China in New Orleans on December 16 (FS1, 8 p.m. ET), that will be all for one of the most compelling athletes and ambassadors in the game of soccer.
After Dec. 16, the Rochester, NY native will no longer represent the U.S. in the Olympics or in the Women’s World Cup. She will no longer play professionally in the NWSL.
As of now, Wambach has played in 252 caps, fifth all-time in U.S. history, and has 184 goals — more than any other male or female player in international soccer. But for all she has accomplished during her 15-year career, Wambach can finally step away with a sense of completion after the U.S. women won the Women’s World Cup this summer in Canada. Ending this 16-year drought was the final prize for Wambach, whose goal all along has been to help push women’s soccer to a better place than she found it.
"After much deliberation and talking with my friends, family, teammates and our coaching staff, I’ve decided to finally bring my soccer career to an end," said Wambach. "While we still have more work to do for women’s soccer, after bringing the World Cup back to the United States this summer, I’m feeling extremely optimistic about the future of our sport. It’s been an amazing, wonderful ride and I can’t wait to see what the next chapter of my life brings."
Wambach’s future has been, in part, decided by a new surge of American women soccer players ready to populate the U.S. women’s national team roster. At 35, Wambach saw her minutes diminished during the 2015 Women’s World Cup, where there had been hope she could provide the on-field heroics that she has in previous World Cups. However, as the U.S. team struggled to find a potent attack, Wambach became a super sub under coach Jill Ellis, as Carli Lloyd was pressed into scoring mode.
"Abby is a player who has transcended our sport and her legacy as one of the world’s greatest players is set forever," Ellis said. "What she has done for women’s soccer and women’s sports overall with her amazing talents on the field and her personality off it has been inspiring to watch. I am just extremely happy that she could end her career with that elusive World Cup title and go out on top, right where she deserves to be."
In addition to the the length and productivity of her career, Wambach will forever be remembered for scoring what FIFA ranks as the top goal ever scored in Women’s World Cup history. At the 2011 Women’s World Cup quarter-final in Germany, Wambach connected on an electric header in the 122nd minute against Brazil on a perfect pass from midfielder Megan Rapinoe. The eventual and heartbreaking loss to Japan in the 2011 final all but sealed Wambach’s decision to play through this year’s Women’s World Cup. She wanted to go out on top.