The big event this month:
Wednesday, December 16
The U.S. women’s team has quite a bit going on this month, but one event will overshadow all others, and by a lot.
The Victory Tour finale — against China on Dec. 16 in the New Orleans Superdome — will be Abby Wambach’s last hurrah. (The game, at 7 p.m. CT, will be on Fox Sports 1.)
It’s impossible to overstate what Wambach has meant to the game and to the U.S. women’s team. Over the next 16 days, the tributes will flow like a swollen river, even more than they have since Oct. 27, when she announced her retirement.
Many of those tributes will come from the people who know Wambach best: her family, her coaches, and her teammates, and anything I can add will pale in comparison.
It speaks volumes that her most famous accomplishment — setting the world record for career goals (184 and counting) — doesn’t begin to provides a true measure of her impact.
Since Mia Hamm, Joy Fawcett and Julie Foudy retired together at the end of 2004, Wambach has been the heart and soul, the backbone and voice of the U.S. team.
If ever there was an athlete who led by example, it’s been Abby Wambach. The same could be said for others on the U.S. team — Christie Rampone, certainly, and Becky Sauerbrunn, Carli Lloyd and the recently retired Lauren Holiday, to name a few.
But no one has been a more inspiring, more passionate teammate than Abby Wambach. No one has been a more fearless, more fearsome competitor.
As Hamm did before her, and as Michelle Akers did before Hamm, Wambach set the standard of excellence that defines Team USA. She always demanded the best of herself, and by doing so, she brought out the best in those around her.
She’s also been a respected global ambassador for women’s soccer (and for women’s sports, and for women in general). The game is better because she was a part of it, stronger because of her strength, more popular because of her popularity, closer to universal because of her universal appeal.
And while “role model” is among the most overused terms in sports, she’s been that, too. Wambach has inspired countless thousands of young athletes, mostly (but not all) girls, to pursue their dreams and accept no limitations on what they can do. And she’s taught millions more, people of all ages, many without an athletic gene in their bodies, to celebrate without reservation who and what they are. (Because, really, what else do any of us have?)
There will be other spectacular American players. There will be other grand triumphs for the U.S. team.
Some day, there will be a new scoring record.
There will never, ever be another Abby Wambach.