VANCOUVER, British Columbia. (AP) — With the title match looming, Abby Wambach isn’t mincing words.
“All I care about is winning this World Cup,” she said.
The star U.S. forward is playing in her fourth Women’s World Cup, and she says it will be her last. A victory Sunday in the final against Japan would be the perfect ending to her World Cup career.
It would also solidify a legacy. Wambach, who has been on the national team for 15 years, has scored 183 goals, more than any other player, male or female, in the world. Of those, 77 have come on headers.
She was the 2012 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, the game’s highest honor. And she has two Olympic gold medals.
What she doesn’t have is a World Cup title.
“For this being her last one, I will do whatever it takes to get the job done,” vowed midfielder Carli Lloyd, who leads the Americans with three goals.
The 35-year old Wambach has seen her role change at this World Cup. She isn’t starting every match, at times coming in off the bench. She has just one goal so far in the monthlong event, the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over Nigeria in the group stage.
The United States, ranked No. 2 in the world, finished atop its group in Canada before victories over Colombia and China set up a thrilling 2-0 semifinal victory over top-ranked Germany on Tuesday night.
The final Sunday against Japan at Vancouver’s BC Place is a rematch of the 2011 championship match in Germany, when the United States fell on penalty kicks after a 2-2 draw.
So far it’s been an eventful tournament for Wambach. She’s started three matches and come off the bench for three. She hadn’t played as a substitute in a World Cup match since her first tournament appearance in 2003.
Coming in as a sub in a 0-0 draw with Sweden during the group stage, she gave the Americans one of their best scoring chances, a header that goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl popped up and over the crossbar.
Wambach later said if the tournament hadn’t been staged on artificial turf, she would have scored there.
Wambach led the way last year when a group of players filed a legal claim in Canada saying that the artificial turf amounted to gender discrimination because the men’s event would never be staged on fake grass.
FIFA wouldn’t bend on the issue. Canada’s bid in 2011, the only bid for this year’s event, stipulated the tournament be played on an artificial surface. The players who filed the claim eventually dropped it so they could focus on preparation for the competition.
Wambach also caused a stir following the U.S. team’s 2-0 victory over Colombia to open the knockout stage.
During the match, U.S. midfielders Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday were issued yellow cards. Because both had yellows from previous matches at the tournament, both had to sit out the quarterfinal against China.
After the Colombia game, Wambach was asked whether the yellow cards were deserved.
“I don’t know if they were yellows,” she said. “It seemed like she (the referee) was purposefully giving those yellows to maybe players that she knew were sitting on yellows. I don’t know if that was just a psychological thing, who knows?
Wambach apologized the next day, calling it wrong to suggest what the official was thinking. FIFA responded by issuing a warning, citing the organization’s disciplinary code that concerns unsportsmanlike conduct.
During that same match against Colombia, Wambach also missed a penalty kick — which she inexplicably took with her left foot. It was just the second penalty kick, excluding shootouts, that the United States had missed at a World Cup.
Now the only waves Wambach wants to make are to the crowd at BC Place on Sunday — from atop the podium. Whether she starts or not is inconsequential.
“As a competitor, and as someone who has an ego, of course I want to start, of course I want to help my team,” she said. “I just have this belief system, and I’ve talked about it my whole career, that it takes a whole team. It’s not about one person. It will never be about one person in a team sport.”