Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


ABBY THE GREAT — BUT HOW GREAT?

Abby Wambach became the most prolific goal-scorer–male or female–in international soccer history when she scored four goals against South Korea in a friendly at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, as the U.S. rolled to a 5-0 victory.

All of Wambach’s goals were scored in the first half.  Her third, which came in the 29th minute, gave her 159 for her career and put her past former U.S. teammate Mia Hamm.

The 33-year old scored the record-setter with a trademark diving header off a corner kick by midfielder Megan Rapinoe.  A bench-clearing celebration followed as the crowd of 18,961 roared.  She exited the match to another long ovation 13 minutes into the second half.

Wambach also passed Hamm in another category:  The two had been tied at 38 career multi-goal games.

Wambach got even with Hamm with goals in the 10th and 19th minutes, both set up by Lauren Cheney.  She capped her historic evening in first-half added-on time on a selfless pass by Alex Morgan.

At the moment, Wambach stands alone at 160 career international goals, followed by Hamm at 158.  Among the men, Ali Daei of Iran (1993-2006) is on top with 109 goals in 149 appearances.  Among European/South American males, Hungary’s Ferenc Puskas (1945-56) remains No. 1 with 84 in 85 matches, nearly a goal-per-game average.  [June 20]

Comment:  So who’s better, Abby Wambach or Mia Hamm, who retired in 2004 after 275 international appearances?

Hamm, of course, was an attacking midfielder, not a pure striker with the 5-foot-11 Wambach’s aerial ability in the penalty area.  Hamm probably passed up several more goals, as her  career assist total–144–suggests.  (Wambach has 62; second on the U.S. list is the retired Kristine Lilly, 105).  And while Wambach’s sheer drive, power and talent with her back to the goal are tremendous, Hamm could do it all in the attacking half, embarrassing a generation of would-be defenders in the process.  In another country, Holland, among men, this would be a comparison between strike master Marco Van Basten and one of the most complete players of all time, Johan Cruyff.  (For the record, Van Basten scored 37 goals in 73 games for the Dutch, Cruyff, 33 goals in 48 before his premature international retirement.)

And from a cultural standpoint, Hamm, thanks to her considerable skills, her two World Cup winner’s medals, her two Olympic gold medals, her two FIFA World Women’s Player of the Year awards and the marketing geniuses at Nike and Gatorade, remains the best-known American female soccer player in the U.S.–despite Wambach having won a FIFA World Women’s Player of the Year award of her own last year.   Heck, among this country’s millions of non-soccer fans, Hamm may be the best-known soccer player, period, with all due respect to David Beckham and Pele.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s a wash.  When Hamm made her U.S. debut in 1987, she was 15, and the women’s game was only beginning to be taken seriously in the U.S., Scandinavia, pockets of western Europe and the Far East–while it was frowned upon in macho Latin America, Africa and most of Asia.  The first FIFA Women’s World Cup, won by the U.S., was four years away.  The first women’s Olympic tournament, won by the U.S. at the Atlanta Games, was another five years away.  It all seems like ages ago, and with the women’s game evolving at breakneck speed, the threats to U.S. hegemony aren’t just China, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Japan of Hamm’s day but Brazil, France, England, Canada, Australia and North Korea, while early powers like Italy and Denmark and Nigeria and New Zealand have faded into the second tier.   Wambach’s is a different world, one a whole lot more crowded–crowded with better teams with better defenders.



THIS LILLY DOESN’T WILT

The U.S. will kick off its bid to reach the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany tonight when it takes on Haiti at Estadio Quintana Roo in Cancun in the second game of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament.  The finalists of the eight-nation competition earn trips to Germany while the third-place finisher advances to a playoff against Europe’s fifth-place team.  [October 28]

Comment:  No. 1 in the latest FIFA World Rankings, the U.S. figures to breeze to a berth in Germany, although the steadily improving Canada and host Mexico might make things interesting.  The only real question is, when will Kristine Lilly appear, extending her world record in career caps to an astounding 350.

It would be easier to understand if the 39-year-old Lilly was a goalkeeper, or even a defender, relying on positioning and experience to compensate for diminishing foot speed.  But the 5-foot-4 Lilly is what’s she’s always been:  a midfield dynamo doing the heavy lifting, something appreciated by her teammates, some of whom are now a little more than half her age.

Lilly earned her first cap in 1987, four years before FIFA staged its first Women’s World Cup, a competition hosted by China that America would win.  Another world championship and two Olympic gold medals have followed.

It should be acknowledged that elite women’s soccer doesn’t revolve around powerful clubs and national leagues, so the emphasis is on international play (think Bora Milutinovic’s  U.S. National Men’s Team, which played 52 matches in the 18 months leading up to the 1994 World Cup).  Of all women’s national teams, the U.S. has a whopping 25 players, current or retired, who have played in 100 matches or more; Germany and China, at 15 and 13, respectively, are next.   Nevertheless, Lilly’s numbers are a testament to her extraordinary talent, drive and durability.

Among men, the leader is Mohamed Al Deayea of Saudi Arabia at 181, followed by Mexico’s Claudio Suarez (177) and Ahmed Hassan of Egypt (169).  Topping the U.S. list is Cobi Jones, whose 164 caps are less than half of Lilly’s.  The average number of caps on the current U.S. women’s squad is 73; without Lilly, it’s 58.  She’s the only player to appear in all five Women’s World Cups.  And, oh yes, on a team known over the years for the scoring exploits of Carin Gabarra, Michelle Akers, Tiffeny Milbrett, Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach, the little engine from Wilton, Connecticut, and the University of North Carolina has scored 130 times for the United States.