When the final whistle blew on the Women’s World Cup this summer, Abby Wambach was nearly convinced that it was her final championship.
The game’s most prolific international scorer – among women and men – needed time to think, though. She didn’t make it official until after a visit to the White House with the cup-champion U.S. national team Tuesday. She is retiring from the game.
”I was 95 percent certain,” she said Wednesday, referring to her thoughts following the World Cup title match. ”But I also know myself well enough to know that I wanted to make sure it wasn’t an impulsive choice and that I was sure it was what I wanted and it would be best not just for me personally but also for this team.”
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The response was typical of Wambach, who spent her 15-year career always pushing for more. The 2012 FIFA Player of the Year has 184 goals in 252 international matches.
Now 35, Wambach had often said she wanted to cap her career with soccer’s premier championship, the one title she didn’t have. She reached the goal when the United States delivered a 5-2 victory over Japan in the World Cup final.
She will play the final four matches of the national team’s 10-game victory tour before stepping down. Her final match will be Dec. 16 against China in New Orleans.
”I’ve been hesitant to release this because I don’t want the victory tour to turn into a farewell tour for Abby,” she said.
The U.S. team crisscrossed Canada during the monthlong World Cup tournament before dominating Japan in the title game at Vancouver’s BC Place. Carli Lloyd was named the MVP after scoring three goals in the span of 16 minutes in the final match.
Wambach saw her role with the team change during the tournament. She came in off the bench in several matches, sacrificing a starting role for the good of the team.
”We’re all competitors and we all want to play,” she said. ”As my career has evolved and gone on, I have seen people come on the team that are fantastic players. And it wasn’t just about me anymore.”
Wambach appeared in four World Cups with the national team. She also has a pair of Olympic gold medals from the 2004 Games in Athens and the 2012 Games in London. She was not on the U.S. team that won gold at the Beijing Games because of a broken leg.
Perhaps one of her most famous goals came in the quarterfinals of the 2011 World Cup in Germany, when she scored the equalizer against Brazil in the 122nd minute.
She finishes as the all-time leading U.S. scorer in both Olympic and World Cup games. She played 25 total World Cup matches with 14 goals, and 10 Olympic matches with nine goals.
She joins Mia Hamm (2001, 2002) as the only Americans to win FIFA’s player of the year honors.
At 5-foot-11 (1.8-meters), the Rochester, New York, native also brought her own imposing athleticism to the women’s game. Of her goals, 77 were off headers.
But more than her numbers, Wambach was serious about her responsibility to grow the women’s game and fight for equal rights.
Last year, she led a group of the world’s top women players in protesting FIFA’s decision to play the 2015 Women’s World Cup on artificial turf, which is considered by many players to be inferior to grass. The players claimed that it was gender discrimination because their male counterparts have never played a World Cup on an artificial surface.
In the end, the tournament went on as planned, but Wambach had made her point.
Wambach made it clear Wednesday that she is retiring from international and club play. The NWSL’s Seattle Reign held her rights this past season, but she did not play a match while she prepared for the World Cup.
As for the future, Wambach is going to take some time after the victory to just relax. She has no concrete plan yet for what’s next.
”I just played the game as hard as I possibly could,” she said. ”And some opponent may say that I embellished some of my knocks here or there more than I should have. But the reality is that I’ve loved playing for my country in whatever capacity I could to help us win games.”