Skip to content

Abby Wambach claims her first FIFA Women’s Player of the Year

Jan 7, 2013, 2:50 PM EDT

Abby Wambach of the U.S. kisses her gold medal after winning the women's soccer final against Japan during the victory ceremony at Wembley Stadium during the London 2012 Olympic Games

Abby Wambach has won U.S. Soccer’s Athlete of the Year five times, but only once had she been a finalist for FIFA World Player of the Year. Last year she finished third in voting for an award destined to go to Japan’s Homare Sawa. Today, however, the focal point of the U.S.’s attack was recognized by the international community as the world’s best player, claiming her first Player of the Year honor.

“I’m very, very surprised,” Wambach said of the award. “Individual honors only happen if you have great teams and great people who have given you the chance to be here.”

It was the right choice, though many might consider it an upset. After Marta won this award from 2006-2010, the Brazilian has become the default choice. That she finished second in the balloting despite doing little to recommend herself over players like Canada’s Christine Sinclair speaks to the stubborn focus of the voting pool. Brand still matters to this electorate, and despite a lack of elite success on a personal or team level in 2012, Marta is still one of the most recognizable names in the sport.

That Wambach beat out Alex Morgan, the third-place finisher, is more noteworthy since the U.S.’s biggest star had a truly award-worthy year. Morgan’s superior numbers were coupled with a popularity rising to rival Marta’s more buzz-worthy days. It looked like Morgan would snare the award, whether she was most deserving or not.

“Not only do I think Marta and Alex could have won, but many other players could have been here as well,” Wambach conceded, graciously, after winning the award.

Wambach’s teammate, in particular, had a strong claim to this honor, but it’s difficult to watch the United States game after game and feel Morgan, for all her talents and production, deserves this honor over Wambach. Thanks to 28 goals and 21 assists, Morgan won U.S. Soccer’s Athlete of the Year honor, but her numbers are the product of a system reliant on Wambach’s playmaking an imposing penalty are presence. Defenses have to set up to account for Wambach, strategies that leave them exposed to Morgan’s speed and clinical finishing.

All of which would be mute if Wambach wasn’t putting up numbers of her own. With 27 goals in 32 games, Wambach’s goal rate was higher than her career average (152 goals in 198 appearances). Despite playing against defenses set up to contain her, Wambach posted her highest goal total in eight years.

Now, Wambach is a much different player than she was while scoring 31 times in 2004. Then, her pure physicality made her a near-unstoppable during the U.S.’s gold medal run. Today Wambach is more likely to play with her back to goal, dropping away from defense before moving the ball wide and ghosting into the box. The approach hasn’t padded her assist total (Wambach with only eight on the year, fifth on the team), but the decision-making makes her the key component of the U.S.’s attack.

“She’s so completely deserving of this award and I’m truly happy for her,” Morgan said. “She’s made such a huge mark on women’s soccer over the past decade. She’s an inspirational to not only the thousands of young girls around the country and world, but also to me.”

Wambach does benefit from Morgan’s presence, with Wambach enjoying more space than she did while Amy Rodríguez played Pia Sundhage’s lead attacker. Morgan’s the main reason why Wambach’s been able to be as productive while switching to a role that will likely prolong her career. Had the 23-year-old claimed her first Player of the Year on Monday, it would have been a entirely justifiable decision.

But surprisingly, FIFA got it right. After years of defaulting this award to Marta, FIFA’s voters were able to look beyond Marta’s brand and Morgan’s flash and make the correct choice. Morgan will undoubtedly claim this award in the future, but giving her this award wouldn’t reflect the realities of today’s U.S. Women’s National Team.

Even at 32 with stars emerging around her, Wambach is still the focal point of her team. She’s their most indispensable player, and given her goal output, you can also argue she is their best.

FIFA made that argument today, a shockingly cogent stance for an award that was once the assumed to be Marta’s to lose. But playing on a goal medal winner that lost only once in 32 games, Wambach may have forced their hand – forced them to make the right call.

Latest Posts
  1. MLS Snapshot: FC Dallas 2-0 Real Salt Lake (video)

    Aug 29, 2015, 11:37 PM EDT

    Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas

    The playoffs look a might big ask of RSL, as they sit rock bottom, 10th place, in the Western Conference.

  2. MLS Snapshot: Colorado Rapids 2-1 Sporting Kansas City (video)

    Aug 29, 2015, 11:08 PM EDT

    Seth Sinovic, Sporting KC & Vicente Sanchez, Colorado Rapids Seth Sinovic, Sporting KC & Vicente Sanchez, Colorado Rapids

    Three losses in a row for Sporting KC, and the team with the highest points-per-game total is slipping in the West.

  3. Premier League Sunday preview: Man United looking for revenge vs. Swansea City

    Aug 29, 2015, 8:37 PM EDT

    Wayne Rooney, Manchester United FC Getty Images

    Man United fell twice at the hand of Swansea City in 2014-15. On Sunday, Louis van Gaal takes his crack at revenge.

  4. MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC 2-1 Montreal Impact (video)

    Aug 29, 2015, 6:34 PM EDT

    Michael Bradley, Toronto FC Michael Bradley, Toronto FC

    Michael Bradley powered TFC to a 2-1 victory in the 401 Derby, and essentially locked up a playoff place in doing so.

  5. MLS Snapshot: New York City FC 1-2 Columbus Crew SC (video)

    Aug 29, 2015, 6:20 PM EDT

    Mix Diskerud, New York City FC Mix Diskerud, New York City FC

    NYCFCs struggles continued on Saturday, as they lost to a very poor road team in Columbus Crew SC.

  6. VIDEO: Which of James Rodriguez’s stunning goals is better? Is it the free kick? Bicycle kick?

    Aug 29, 2015, 6:01 PM EDT

    James Rodriguez, Real Madrid CF Getty Images

    James Rodriguez scored two filthy goals on Saturday. We need your help deciding which one was more impressive.

  7. Bundesliga wrap: Aussie magic helps Ingolstadt shock Augsburg (video); Bayern, Mainz roll

    Aug 29, 2015, 4:55 PM EDT

    Bayern's Arjen Robben, center, celebrates with teammates Thomas Mueller, left, and Arturo Vidal after scoring  his side's third goal from the penalty spot during the German Bundesliga soccer match between FC Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen 04 in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader) AP

    Bayern Munich continued its strong start to the Bundesliga campaign, and will be the only team to boast a 3-0 record unless BVB beats Hertha Berlin on Sunday.

  8. Pochettino: Tottenham “much better than Everton,” but nothing to show for it is frustrating

    Aug 29, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT

    Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham Hotspur FC Getty Images

    Being the “better” side is a subjective thing, of course, especially when you fail to win.

  9. Premier League roundup: Chelsea, Liverpool suffer stunning home defeats

    Aug 29, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT

    Catch up on all the action from eight games on Saturday, as there were plenty of shocks in the PL.

  10. Arsene Wenger: It was difficult playing up a man, but “vital for Arsenal to win today”

    Aug 29, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT

    Arsene Wenger, Arsenal FC Getty Images

    Arsene Wenger isn’t panicking over another close call against Newcastle United. The way he sees it, they did well to win 1-0 on an own goal.

  11. Tim Howard ready for USMNT return, as heroics rescue Everton

    Aug 29, 2015, 3:25 PM EDT

    Tim Howard Tim Howard

    With Howard back in a U.S. jersey next week, he put in a Man of the Match display to grab Everton a point at Spurs.

  12. Three things we learned from Tottenham Hotspur vs. Everton

    Aug 29, 2015, 2:35 PM EDT

    Tottenham Hotspur v Stoke City - Premier League Getty Images

    Here’s three things we learned from the Lane.

  13. Tottenham 0-0 Everton: Howard stands tall as Toffees weather Spurs storm

    Aug 29, 2015, 2:24 PM EDT

    Howard Getty Images

    Spurs attacked for much of the match but were held off the scoresheet by American goalkeeper Tim Howard.

  14. Brendan Rodgers says both Liverpool and the referee struggled at Anfield

    Aug 29, 2015, 1:18 PM EDT

    Rodgers Getty Images

    The Liverpool manager was disappointed in the Reds play but also criticized the referee.

  15. Mourinho praises Crystal Palace after shocking Chelsea loss

    Aug 29, 2015, 12:34 PM EDT

    Mourinho Getty Images

    Jose Mourinho gave lots of credit to today’s worthy opponent, but did stay somewhat true to his nature.

  16. Stoke City 0-1 West Bromwich Albion: Nine-man Potters downed by Rondon

    Aug 29, 2015, 12:04 PM EDT

    Afellay and Adam sent off as Baggies down Potters on Pulis’ return.

  17. Bournemouth 1-1 Leicester City: Foxes stay unbeaten thanks to late Vardy penalty

    Aug 29, 2015, 12:01 PM EDT

    AFC Bournemouth's Charlie Daniels, right, and Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez battle for the ball during the English Premier League soccer match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth, England, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015. (Andrew Matthews/PA via AP)     UNITED KINGDOM OUT    -    NO SALES     -    NO ARCHIVES AP

    Artur Boruc got a piece of Vardy’s penalty attempt, but not enough. 1-1.

  18. Aston Villa 2-2 Sunderland: Visitors battle back for point at Villa Park

    Aug 29, 2015, 11:55 AM EDT

    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 22: Brad Guzan of Aston Villa during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Aston Villa at Selhurst Park on August 22, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Yann M’Vila and Jeremain Lens scored for Sunderland, with Scott Sinclair striking twice for Aston Villa in between.

  19. Chelsea 1-2 Crystal Palace: Blues stunned at home by Eagles

    Aug 29, 2015, 11:54 AM EDT

    Mourinho loses second home game in 100 PL matches as Chelsea boss.

Featured video

Premier League, Week 3 review