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Abby Wambach Retires As The G.O.A.T.

With 184 international goals — the most of any soccer player in the world, male or female — Abby Wambach is going out on top. The 14-year veteran of the U.S. women’s national team (USWNT) announced her retirement today (after snapping a selfie with POTUS, no less), marking the end not just of her reign in women’s soccer but also the end of one of the most dominant careers in American sports.

Not all great athletes have a single moment that encapsulates their career, but for me, Wambach does. Down 2-1 against Brazil in the 122nd minute of the 2011 Women’s World Cup quarterfinal, the game appeared all but over — a loss for the Americans would have meant the worst performance in a World Cup by any USWNT. A cross from Megan Rapinoe on the left side seemed hopeless, until you saw Wambach on the far right, floating above four Brazilian defenders and heading the ball in.

“CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?! ABBY WAMBACH HAS SAVED THE USA’S LIFE IN THIS WORLD CUP,” announcer Ian Darke screamed in disbelief. But those who knew Wambach probably weren’t too surprised her dome had rescued the team. In the 2004 Olympic final — also against Brazil — a 24-year-old Wambach scored the game-winning goal in overtime — also with her head.

At nearly 6 feet tall, Wambach was plain dominant in the air in the women’s game. She has scored 77 international goals with her Twitter-famous head. That means her head, by itself, is the seventh-most prolific scorer in USWNT history.

But focusing only on her head ignores the 107 goals Wambach has scored with the rest of her body. Even minus the headers, Wambach has scored more goals internationally than all but one man.

Want some other crazy Wambach stats?

  • According to ESPN’s Paul Carr, Wambach scored a goal every 99.3 minutes for the USWNT, the best rate of the 13 players with 40 or more goals;
  • She holds the USWNT match record (in a six-way tie) for the most goals in a game (5);
  • She also holds the USWNT career record for the most multiple-goal games (39);
  • And the most yellow cards (23) — a result of her tenacity in her early days, and her flop-like tendencies in her later days.

But snapshot statistics don’t do Wambach justice. For more than a decade, she dictated the style of American women’s soccer (for better or for worse). Wambach will play her last game for the USWNT on Dec. 16, but her legacy will live on in long balls and last-minute headers, a relic of the ’99-ers style of play that many are ready to retire … until the U.S. needs saving and Wambach won’t be there to header one home.

Allison McCann is a former visual journalist for FiveThirtyEight.

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