Having played in two leagues that folded, Abby Wambach wants the new eight-team women’s U.S. soccer circuit to be part of her legacy.
The newly crowned FIFA Women’s Player of the Year will play for the Western New York Flash in the National Women’s Soccer League, one of eight teams that will start play this spring. It succeeds the U.S. Women’s United Soccer Association (2001-03) and Women’s Professional Soccer (2010-12).
“I took it as a responsibility and a failure on my part that the last previous leagues didn’t succeed,” she said during a telephone conference call Monday.
Wambach played for the Washington Freedom in the previous leagues. Even though the 32-year-old forward bought a house last June in Portland, Ore., she decided moving back near home was important. She will be based in Buffalo, N.Y., about 70 miles from her hometown of Rochester.
“It was the right choice for me and for the league,” she said. “Of course I would love to have been in Portland, but I really do think it was and is the best decision for the game, for this league, so that it can strive and not just survive.”
Having a little distance from Rochester was important to her.
“Over the last couple years it’s gotten a little out of control and insane during the holidays when I came home,” she said. “My family, all they think – it’s just so weird, they’re like, this is so strange, you’re just you. But people – fans will be fans – they’ll interrupt you in the middle of dinner. For the most part, it’s so sweet.”
After winning her second straight Olympic gold medal – the third in a row for the U.S. – Wambach was voted the top women’s soccer player in the world, becoming the first American to win since Mia Hamm in 2001 and `02.
She’ll be joined in the new league by all her American teammates and by Canada captain Christine Sinclair. But not all the players will be able to support themselves just from their soccer income.
“Where I think we went wrong in the past, and probably in both scenarios, is that we started off too big, where our salaries were too high,” she said. “I think that we have to take what we can get, and some of the players are probably unfortunately going to have to have other jobs, which in my opinion isn’t hopefully the long vision, the long-sighted vision of where we want to go.”
The new league gives players regular competition in the gap between last year’s Olympics and the 2015 Women’s World Cup, which will be played in Canada. Wambach has 152 international goals, six shy of tying Hamm’s world record, and hopes to impress new American coach Tom Sermanni and keep her national team spot through this cycle.
“Truth be told, it’s not going to be easy for me. I am getting older,” she said. “I do deal with Achilles tendinitis, and a new coach coming on he could clean house and go in a totally different direction.”
She’ll have American teammate Carli Lloyd, a New Jersey native, with her on the Flash.
“I didn’t think that many other of my teammates would want to go play in upstate New York because most of them live in bigger cities,” Wambach said. “I’ll show her the ropes, take her for probably her first Garbage Plate” – a reference to a local culinary specialty.
Wambach won the FIFA award over American teammate Alex Morgan and Brazil’s Marta, a five-time winner. At last week’s FIFA gala in Zurich, the 5-foot-11 Wambach towered over Lionel Messi, who won a record fourth straight men’s FIFA Player of the Year award. Messi, about 5-5, caused a flurry of Internet comment over his decision to wear a Dolce & Gabbana polka-dot tuxedo and bowtie.
Wambach donned a simple white shirt and dark jacket.
“He can afford to have a stylist come in and just put you in a really nice outfit, something that’s totally different,” Wambach said. “Last year he wore like a oxblood-colored tux, which I thought was really cool, as well. So those guys, they’ve got all the funds to look pretty, and of course Alex looked so pretty. It’s really not my thing. I’m not the one that really enjoys to get dressed up. So I’m more than anything else excited to take that outfit off at the end of the night and get into bed.”