I recently joined countless others around the country and jumped on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (U.S. WNT) bandwagon. In fact, almost everyone I encountered during the team’s amazing FIFA World Cup run seemed to be aware of the its international success. Even before the Semifinals, the U.S. WNT had already gone head-to-head against the highly rated Brazilian team in the Quarterfinals. A game-tying “header” in the 11th hour by none other than Rochester, New York’s own Abby Wambach sent the game into overtime. A shootout followed, and the U.S. WNT went on to win the match 5–3, creating a defining moment in women’s professional sports.
The U.S. team went on to beat France in the Semifinals, and then suffered a heartbreaking loss to Japan in the World Cup Finals. However, the team won so much more than any single game. In 1999, U.S. players Mia Hamm, Briana Scurry, Michelle Akers, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, and their U.S. WNT colleagues captured the World Cup title with their victory over China and propelled women’s soccer into the national spotlight. Now, in 2011, the spotlight has returned.
Although soccer relies on teamwork, leaders always rise to prominence. Team Forward Abby Wambach exemplifies this leadership role with particular grace and poise. As an elder of the team (at age 31) and the most recognizable U.S. Women’s soccer player, Abby has articulated her dedication to the sport in countless pre- and post-game interviews. Beyond her talent on the field, Abby’s character led me to become a fan, catching up with what other Rochester residents have known for some time. To her hometown audience, Abby is soccer, Abby is Rochester, and Abby is a role-model.
With the World Cup Finals over, Abby and her teammates traveled home from Germany to resume their roles with their respective teams in the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) league. A WPS match-up in Rochester was scheduled in July between the Western New York Flash and Abby’s team, magicJack of Boca Raton, Florida. Abby Mania around Rochester made the question of whether or not Abby would even show up—let alone play—a hot topic. A “welcome home” rally scheduled for the day of the game only boosted the excitement level further. I attended the rally along with about 2,000 other fans, all eager to see Abby. She didn’t disappoint us with her humble attitude and her inspirational message of hope, encouragement, respect, and gratitude.
I was part of the record crowd of 15,404 who gathered later that day to see the magicJack vs. Flash game. Once again, I had the great fortune to witness another Abby event during her halftime speech. A ceremony that followed bestowed Abby with the key to the city, along with a proclamation that July 20, 2011, would forever be known as “Abby Wambach Day.”
From my perspective, Abby Wambach and her teammates have instilled a sense of national pride. The enthusiasm that accompanied the Women’s World Cup created a commonality among many people. The members of the U.S. WNT team weren’t just female soccer players, they were United States soccer players. They represented us on an international platform with true grace and honor. The 2011 U.S. WNT made its mark in history and has created anticipation for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England. I, for one, will be cheering them on from this side of the Atlantic, proudly wearing a “#20 USA” Abby Wambach jersey.