Abby Wambach's five championship moments

Abby Wambach will play the 255th and final game of her international career on Wednesday night when the USA hosts China in the last game of the Victory Tour (TV: Fox Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET). She's best known for her world record 184 international goals, but she has also captured championships in college (Florida) and the pros (Washington Freedom) as well as at the international level with the USA (Olympics and Women's World Cup), winning with her head and feet as well as with her often sharp tongue.

1998. Florida (NCAA championship)

Women's college soccer was still in its infancy when Wambach graduated from Our Lady of Mercy High School in Brighton, New York in 1998. Big-time college athletic programs like Florida in the SEC had only started forming varsity women's soccer teams in the mid-1990s. There was only one team in those days: North Carolina, winner of 14 of the first 16 NCAA titles.

Wambach looked at UNC, as well as Portland, UCLA, Virginia and George Mason, but she decided to move to Florida and join the Gators with whom she felt she could have a bigger influence.

Becky Burleigh's team was in just its fourth season, but the Gators featured transfer Danielle Fotopoulos, who would set the then-NCAA scoring record with 118 goals in four seasons at SMU and Florida, and Heather Mitts, who would later team up with Wambach on the U.S. women's national team.

Wambach's legendary intensity was evident as early as her freshman season. Florida was leading Carolina late in the NCAA Tournament final when a television timeout was called. Burleigh planned on using the break to give some last-minute instructions when, as the Gator coach later recalled to ESPN Magazine, Wambach came racing into the huddle and screamed, "We are not f***ing losing to these bitches!"

Nothing more needed to be said, and Florida won the national title, 1-0.

2003. Washington Freedom (WUSA's Founders Cup)

No player had a greater influence on Wambach's career than Mia Hamm, whose scoring record of 158 international goals she broke in 2013. Wambach played with Hamm on the Washington Freedom in WUSA, which she joined in 2002, the league's second season.

In 2003, Wambach led Washington to the Founders Cup III title with a 2-1 win over Atlanta. She was named the MVP as she scored both goals, including the overtime winner with a sliding volley.

It would be the last time Wambach and Hamm played together at the club level. Shortly after the 2003 season, WUSA folded. But a bond was formed between Wambach and Hamm, however.

"She was, and in some ways still is, a huge mentor for me," Wambach later told "I didn’t realize when I was young and we were playing together just how much impact and influence our relationship would end up having on me."

2004. USA (Olympic gold medal)

Wambach's heading ability was the difference when she scored in overtime to give the USA a 2-1 win over Brazil in the 2004 Olympic gold-medal medal game in Athens, Greece.

The game marked the end of the competitive international careers of Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, Brandi Chastain and Hamm, while Wambach's was just beginning. In the best year of her 15-year national team career, Wambach scored 31 goals and added 13 assists in 33 games for the USA. Only Michelle Akers with 39 goals in 1991 scored more goals in a single season.

"It's a fabulous way to win an Olympic gold medal," Wambach said after the gold-medal game, "and it's an even better way to send off these women, because they're what this is about. This is not about me, or the younger players. It's about them."

2012. USA (Olympic gold medal)

Wambach missed the 2008 Olympics in Beijing after breaking her leg, but she was back for the 2012 Olympics in London.

Her biggest impact during the USA's run to a third straight gold medal was not with her feet or head but with her mouth. It came during the semifinals against Canada at Manchester's Old Trafford in arguably the best women's game ever played.

Three times, Wambach's archrival, Christine Sinclair, scored for Canada, and three times the Americans answered. Wambach has always been known for her big mouth -- her teammates once gave her a T-shirt that read "I’m talking and I can’t shut up" -- and it came in handy late in the game.

With Canada keeper Erin McLeod stalling each time she picked up the ball, Wambach started counting out loud to referee Christina Pedersen. To Wambach's amazement -- or so she says -- Pedersen whistled McLeod for time-wasting with 10 minutes remaining and ordered an indirect free kick in the penalty area. On the ensuing play, a handball was called, and Wambach converted the penalty kick to send the game into overtime, where the USA won, 4-3.

“Some people called me whiny for counting out loud, some fans said they thought it was brilliant,” Wambach told Toronto's Globe & Mail a year later. “I sat next to a Canadian on the plane and he said to me, ‘You didn’t win that game, the referee gave it to you.’ I laughed, but I understand how he felt."

The USA beat Japan, 2-1, for the gold medal, and Wambach won her first and only FIFA Women's Player of the Year award in 2012.

2015. USA (Women's World Cup championship)

In her fourth and final try, Wambach won the Women's World Cup as the USA defeated Japan, 5-2, in the final. By then, she had been reduced to a reserve's role off the bench.

At 35, age had started to catch up with Wambach, and U.S. attack had begun to stagnate with its reliance on an aerial game directed at her.

She started the first game against Australia and missed two sitters. After coming off the bench in a 0-0 tie with Sweden in the next game and missing another chance when a header was tipped away by Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl, Wambach blamed her lack of goals on the artificial turf.

She said she'd have been "more carefree" on grass and not worried about diving like she now had to do on the Canadian turf. As for her header against Sweden, she said it would not have bounced as high on grass as it did on the turf, allowing Lindahl to get to the ball.

By the quarterfinals, Wambach was out of the starting lineup. But whatever her frustration might have been, she remained a great teammate. One of the classic scenes of the Women's World Cup was Wambach dropping another F-bomb in a team huddle.

It came before the start of the second half against China. Having played poorly in the round of 16 against Colombia and being scoreless at the half against China, the U.S. women were potentially facing their last half in the Women's World Cup when Wambach offered a few choice words of advice, "The first 10 minutes, we get a f***ing goal!”

Carli Lloyd got Wambach's message and scored six minutes into the second half. The USA was off on its way to its third world title.

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications