Abby Wambach keeps moving forward
SAN ANTONIO -- There was some confusion over how exactly United States women's national team head coach Tom Sermanni wanted the drill to be run on the practice field here Friday at Trinity University. Defender Rachel Buehler was doing her best to explain the details to the other three participants, when suddenly, 20 yards away across a field of cones, a voice shouted, "Just go!"
It came from striker Abby Wambach.
Go. Move forward. Let's do this.
It sums up how Wambach has always done things. And with the USWNT in the transitional time that spans from last summer's Olympics to the start next year of World Cup qualifying (including a Sunday friendly versus Australia at the Alamodome), it's a good mantra for the squad to abide by.
"It's exciting to come back and get back the consistent reps that you need to become the best team you can be," Wambach said after training. "It's a new cycle for this team and we're finding out which new players are going to step up."
It is hard to imagine how a group of players could not have stepped up more than it did more than two years ago in Germany, yet that effort was not enough to overcome a determined Japan squad in the 2011 Women's World Cup final. Unlike the famous '99ers, Wambach's generation of USWNTers still lacks the ultimate prize, a fact that has only increased an already voracious appetite for success.
"I think what the 2011 World Cup did was light a fire inside all of us -- it's definitely something we all carry with us in our hearts, and it's one thing that you never fully quite get over until you can be standing on that top podium," Wambach said. "This team really wants to prove to not only ourselves but the rest of the world that we are a World Cup championship team."
The main difference between this current cycle and the previous one is the existence of the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL). Having played through the now-defunct WUSA and WPS, there is no better authority than Wambach to diagnose the status of a domestic women's league. For now, the patient is in stable condition.
"I think the financial business model of this league is more suitable for where we are with women's soccer in this country," Wambach said. "Also, teams like Portland did a great job integrating the women's team into the MLS franchise. In some other programs, they didn't have the MLS backdrop to be able to rely on. But we also have to have the mindset that there's going to be some sacrifices that have to be made in order to grow some of these franchises."
Inspiration comes in many ways. The 33-year-old striker is the all-time leading scorer in U.S. women's soccer history. In December, she became just the second U.S. player to win FIFA World Player of the Year. This is all star-studded stuff; yet, when listening to Wambach, it's difficult to see how she is different than any other 33-year-old woman from Rochester, N.Y., who just tied the knot.
Earlier this month, Wambach and Western New York Flash teammate Sarah Huffman held a civil union ceremony in Hawaii. Wambach's sexuality was publicly acknowledged, and in a way she wanted. It only makes sense that a player who conducts her business on the field in such an unassuming way would do the same in her private life.
"I'm a very open person and I've never felt like I was in a closet when I figured it all out in my late teens and early 20s," Wambach said. "I want to be open, and I feel confident and comfortable talking about it. I always have. I've just never really been asked about it."
Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. They are all out there and, depending on one's perspective, can be invasive or destructive. Wambach certainly doesn't shy away from those mediums -- it was via Twitter that most of the world learned of her ceremony with Huffman. But seemingly very little has changed for Wambach. There is still the same inner peace, the same self-awareness.
"Separating my private life from my professional life has been important to me," she said. "It wasn't because I was in a homosexual relationship; it was because I have so many other parts of my life that are really public that I wanted to keep some stuff that was just mine.
"It could have been with a man -- it didn't matter the sex of the person I was with. But I couldn't be more excited about letting the world know about the wonderful news that Sarah and I got married," she concluded with a slight nod and smile.
Public or private, there is one direction for Wambach: forward.