Monday, August 16, 2004 Updated: August 21, 10:55 AM ET
Wambach is No. 1 warrior for U.S. women's soccer team
THESSALONIKI, Greece -- Abby Wambach is so big and strong,
it's hard to believe she was once the puny one.
"Being the youngest of seven, you have to learn not to ever
tell on the older brothers and sisters," Wambach said. "Or else
you'll be hung on the back of the doorknob by your underwear."
Yes, that actually happened once.
"They tortured me in some ways, and it was fun," Wambach said.
"That's kind of where I learned how to deal with anything that was
thrown my way, even if I didn't like it."
It's much harder to put Wambach out of commission these days,
but it has finally happened. Although she's on an amazing scoring
binge of 16 goals in 17 games, the next-generation star of the U.S.
women's soccer team will have to sit out Tuesday's last first-round
game against Australia because of a suspension for rough play.
"A little heartbreaking," Wambach said. "I want to be able to
help my team and wear that jersey every day and play in every game.
If I can't do that, I feel I'm letting my team down, my country
Goals, fouls, patriotism and childhood stories involving
doorknobs. Forget, for a moment, Mia Hamm and the rest of the Fab
Five. To date, Wambach is by far the most exciting and interesting
player in the tournament.
Abby Wambach has been suspended for Tuesday's first-round match against Australia for her rough style of play.
She has played a direct role in four of the five goals the U.S.
team has scored in its first two games, 3-0 and 2-0 wins over
Greece and Brazil. Each time she displayed a different talent.
She made the perfect decoy move, letting a pass go between her
legs while drawing a double-team, to set up a goal by Shannon Boxx.
She placed an impeccable 10-yard header over a goalkeeper off a
corner kick. She drew a foul that led to a penalty kick goal. And
she proved she can dribble, too, maneuvering her 5-foot-11 frame
through two defenders to score on a 30-yard run.
No wonder her opponents are feeling a little intimidated.
"You can see it, them double-teaming her, giving her the
respect, backing off of her," said Boxx, who played against
Wambach in the WUSA. "I've had to go up against Abby for 90
minutes and I was so tired by the end of that game. It was just the
physical battle every time the ball came into her. Fight, fight,
fight. Push, pull, whatever you can do. And I'm one of the stronger
Sounds a lot like Wambach's growing-up life in Rochester, N.Y.,
where the little sister played "every sport known to man - except
ice hockey" in order to keep up with her four brothers and two
sisters. She wanted to play ice hockey, too, but her mother thought
it was a sport just for boys.
Her brothers, however, did let her play roller hockey in the
driveway. Sort of.
"They would put pads on me, stick me in goal," Wambach said.
Then they'd say "'We're going to take some slap shots on you."'
By the time she went to college at Florida, Wambach had
toughened into a bruising soccer player, setting the school record
for goals and assists while knocking people around.
"I would go into every tackle hard," Wambach said. "And once
a year I had to sit out because I accumulated so many yellow
Despite her scoring prowess, Wambach's career wasn't going
anywhere unless she started playing smarter. That happened when she
was drafted by the WUSA's Washington Freedom and was paired with
Hamm, perhaps the sport's fiercest and smartest competitor. The
pair developed a chemistry they have maintained with the national
team and taken all the way to the Olympics.
"People say sometimes she's hard to play with, her intensity
and standards are so high," Wambach said. "But I was willing to
Wambach also has learned to read the refs and control her
physical game. She received just two yellow cards in her first 40
games with the U.S. team.
Then the Olympics started. Grabbed and shoved by Greece and
Brazil, Wambach gave as good as she got and got a yellow card in
each game, resulting in her one-match suspension.
So far, coach April Heinrichs has resisted the urge to tell
Wambach to back off.
"She plays with such a warrior mentality," Heinrichs said.
"You can imagine asking a warrior of her physical presence to tone
it down a notch and be delicate and tiptoe around on egg shells and
survive. ... As soon as you that, you're not allowed to be