Wambach's most memorable moments
If you are going to break an all-time goal-scoring record, you might as well do it in style. With four goals in a friendly against South Korea on Thursday, Abby Wambach moved past former United States star Mia Hamm and became the all-time world leader with 160 international goals.
The record-breaking performance in Harrison, N.J., will take its place among her most memorable moments. So what else makes the list?
1998: Wins NCAA championship as a freshman
Wambach's greatest individual success at the University of Florida came as a senior, when she led the Gators to the College Cup and totaled 31 goals and 14 assists. Only a semifinal overtime loss against Santa Clara prevented Florida from playing for a championship that season. But the run of hardware that would continue throughout her career began as soon as she arrived in Gainesville. During her freshman season, playing an Alex Morgan running mate-type role for established All-American Danielle Fotopoulos, Wambach totaled 19 goals and 12 assists in 26 games en route to a national championship. It remains the only soccer title for an SEC school.
2003: Wins WUSA Founders Cup MVP
Much like in college, Wambach didn't need much time to acclimate to new surroundings once she arrived in the Women's United Soccer Association, the first of three attempts to establish a women's professional league in this country. Playing for the Washington Freedom, where she was teammates with Hamm, Wambach was named the league's top rookie in 2002. Her signature moment came the following season, when she scored both goals in a 2-1 win in the championship game against the Atlanta Beat. Foreshadowing the late heroics to come in subsequent years, she scored the winner against the Beat in the 96th minute to earn MVP honors.
2004: Beats Brazil for Olympic gold medal
A semifinal loss against Germany in the 2003 World Cup, Wambach's first, left the United States and its rising star with something to prove in 2004. Heather O'Reilly's extra-time goal gave the Americans their revenge against the Germans in the Olympic semifinals in Athens, but Brazil still stood in the way of a gold medal. Enter Wambach's head, not for the first or last time. Tied after 90 minutes in the gold-medal match, her header in the 112th minute was enough for a 2-1 win that put the United States back on top of the women's soccer world.
2009: Scores 100th international goal at home
Almost a year to the day after breaking her leg in a game against Brazil in the final pre-Olympics match in 2008 (an injury that forced her to miss the competition won by the United States), Wambach was back on the field for a friendly against Canada in her hometown of Rochester, N.Y. Part of the Wambach narrative has always involved her roots, growing up in Pittsford, a Rochester suburb, and going toe to toe (or elbow to elbow, or fist to fist) with her brothers. So it was serendipitous that she became the fifth American woman to accumulate 100 international goals by scoring on her home turf.
2010: Staples to the head don't stop her
You probably don't want to watch this -- and if you saw it the first time, you know exactly what "this" is. With blood running in a steady stream from a wound on her head after a collision in a World Cup qualifier against Mexico, Wambach had the wound stapled on the field.
(Rewind to the 2007 World Cup, a tournament the national team would probably like to forget. A similar wound temporarily forced Wambach off the field to receive stitches during a group game against North Korea, as the training staff didn't have the means to use staples at the time. North Korea scored twice during her absence, and it took a late American equalizer to salvage a draw.)
With her team trailing late against Mexico in a game it ultimately lost, Wambach didn't want to leave. As Slate's Stefan Fatsis pointed out earlier this year after Wambach sustained a head injury and stayed on the field in a National Women's Soccer League game, there is a line that must be drawn between our ideas of toughness and reckless endangerment. But it's also undeniable that Wambach's physicality and toughness are at the heart of who she is as a player.
2011: The header heard around the world
It's no secret that Wambach's feet are often the means by which she moves into position to score goals with another part of her body. But none of those headers -- and there have been plenty -- brought more people to their feet than the goal she put home in the 122nd minute (stoppage time in extra time) of a World Cup quarterfinal against Brazil. The goal didn't win the game -- the United States advanced via the ensuing penalty shootout -- but Wambach getting her head on Megan Rapinoe's perfect cross pass brought the United States more mainstream attention than any moment since Brandi Chastain's shootout goal in the 1999 World Cup.
2012: The greatest game ever played
Wambach played mostly a supporting role in the drama that unfolded between the United States and Canada at Old Trafford in the 2012 Olympic semifinals; the lead roles were filled by Canada's Christine Sinclair, Morgan and dubious officiating. But arguably the greatest game in women's soccer makes the list of career highlights for any player who participated. Wambach's goal from the penalty spot in the 80th minute negated the last of Sinclair's three goals and tied the game at 3. That got the United States to extra time, when Morgan's header -- just in front of an onrushing Wambach with two defenders draped on her -- ended matters in the third minute of the second overtime period. Gold followed three days later with a win against Japan.
2012: The best in the world, officially
For someone who was well on her way to becoming the most prolific goal scorer in the sport, recognition as the best player in the world was a long time coming. For all of Wambach's goals, championships and accolades, her path to FIFA World Player of the Year was long blocked by Brazilian superstar Marta (and, depending on whom you listen to, the perception that Wambach didn't play an artistic enough brand of soccer to satisfy the selectors). But after winning Olympic gold with the United States, Wambach edged Marta and Morgan for the 2012 honor.