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Wambach shows way in Women's World Cup

Wambach shows way in Women's World Cup

Do yourself a favor and search the Internet for the little clip that FOX Soccer put together of Abby
Wambach shows way in Women's World Cup
Abby Wambach has embraced her role coming off the bench for Team U.S.A. in the Women's World Cup. Sunday, Wambach gets her final chance at winning her first World Cup when the U.S. faces Japan.
Photographer: Darryl Dyck

Do yourself a favor and search the Internet for the little clip that FOX Soccer put together of Abby Wambach’s teammates impersonating her.

Kelley O’Hara (dramatically wiping imaginary sweat from forehead): “ ‘HEY! Listen up! Listen up, you guys!’ ”

Becky Sauerbrunn (waving in imaginary huddle): “ ‘Alright, guys, in . . . get in, get in, get in.’ ”

More Sauerbrunn: “ ‘Expletive-expletive-expletive don’t yell at the ref.’ Two minutes later, ‘Referee! REFEREE! Do you SEE that?! ’”

Megan Rapinoe (deadpan): “ ‘I’m calm. I’m over here. I’m using my indoor voice. And you’re freaking out.’ ”

It’s as revealing as it is hilarious.

Wambach has been the battering ram for the U.S.A. women’s soccer national team since 2001, two years after the U.S. won the World Cup, soccer’s greatest team achievement.

Besides being a usually thoughtful, sometimes impetuous, always outspoken critic of everyone from FIFA to her own teammates to herself, Wambach has scored more goals (183) than anyone in the world, regardless of gender. Of those, 77 have come on headers, and of those, many have come on her signature move, the diving header.

It’s a furiously headlong, headstrong move that requires as much courage as it does timing and athleticism. Not for the faint of heart, turning yourself into a missile in a penalty area bristling with anxious defenders’ boots.

Perhaps the most remarkable move of her career, though, is the way she has converted walk-the-walk into talk-the-talk in a meaningful way that is so much more than a threadbare platitude to team goals over individual achievement.

For someone who is used to having things her own way, Wambach has blown up the concept of bench cheerleader in a way that seems unimaginable if you were to plug in stars of her caliber from other sports.

Team USA plays Japan for the World Cup championship tonight, and Wambach likely will spend most of the game on the bench, driving teammates crazy, for sure, but mostly driving them.

As funny as it is to see them mimic the 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year, that FOX clip shows how tightly connected the team is to each other. They can bust on each other, even on the 35-year-old soccer Mount Rushmore candidate.

Yes, that still would’ve been possible if Wambach had been sitting this one out entirely — retired, not picked for the team, injured, etc. — but she isn’t sitting it out by any means, bench minutes notwithstanding, and the team is all the richer and more powerful for it.

The 35-year-old from Rochester has two Olympic gold medals, but no World Cups, so this is it.

In the semifinals against Germany on Tuesday, Wambach didn’t get in the game until the 80th minute, and when she did, it was something to behold watching her tear around like she was back at Mercy High or the University of Florida.

I watched that game at Wolff’s BierGarten in Schenectady, which was packed.

Wambach spent most of the game sitting next to O’Hara, who received liberty when she subbed in in the 75th minute.

The Wolff’s crowd went nuts when they saw Wambach waiting to sub in a few minutes later, chanting “Ab-by Wam-bach [clap clap clap-clap-clap],” then it got really loud when O’Hara scored the game-clincher in the 84th minute.

“I’m probably the most obnoxious bench player that has ever lived,” Wambach said during a phone interview on the Dan Patrick Show on Wednesday. “It’s brutal, man. People have actually had to move away from me on the bench because I am kind of an obnoxious person.

“I’m totally accepting of my role, because I can’t go 120 minutes. In some of these games, there’s a possibility that it can into extra time, so I have to play my role on this team. It’s so hard to watch, because you have no control.”

That doesn’t seem true. She does exert some control on this team, even from the bench.

And “accept” is entirely the wrong verb in her case. She hasn’t accepted it. Acceptance suggests shoulder-shrug resignation. No, she has embraced her job and turned it into something with impact.

And she’s not just a mop-up pitcher when she does get on the field, but more of a closer. If she can be a magnet of attention for the opposing defense, it can create just enough of an opening like the one O’Hara found.

Wambach’s not just a figurehead.

“I’ve definitely changed as a player over the last two years,” she told Patrick. “I just want to win, I don’t care how. Your words have to match your actions, and I’ve said for a long time I’d give up all the individual accolades and all the individual accomplishments I’ve had for a World Cup championship, and I really, really, really think that’s true.

“We’ve become a true team, and it’s not just the players that are on the field. In fact, it’s the players that are on the bench that are going to make a difference. Last night [Tuesday] was a definite story of that. Kelley O’Hara comes in and scores her first international goal, and if she’s not ready, if she’s not mentally preparing for that moment in time, it doesn’t happen. It’s going to take all 22 players for us to win this thing.”

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