Jan 7, 2013, 2:50 PM EST
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.
Dec 18, 2013, 12:15 PM EST
With a massive opportunity to impress, here’s how Spurs’ interim boss can stick around:
Dec 18, 2013, 11:03 AM EST
Impact hand reigns to ex-Chicago Fire boss, as Klopas signs three-year deal:
Dec 18, 2013, 10:35 AM EST
Top Spanish sides investigated as “irregular public funding” is alleged by EU. Do new Financial Fair Play rules have anything to do with this?
Dec 18, 2013, 10:00 AM EST
After another defeat, the ‘Special One’ bemoans Chelsea’s lack of ruthlessness:
Dec 18, 2013, 9:15 AM EST
De Rosario, Ruiz and Ferreira all up for grabs. Plus plenty of other gems available:
Dec 18, 2013, 8:32 AM EST
After everything, Becks’ love for United remains. And the ex-MLS star sees a bright future ahead for United:
Dec 18, 2013, 7:43 AM EST
Were Spurs’ players 100 percent behind AVB? Apparently so…
Dec 17, 2013, 11:02 PM EST
Rounding up the smaller bits of news and other happenings around Major League Soccer:
Dec 17, 2013, 10:14 PM EST
Today’s news moves us one painful step closer to an awful, perhaps inevitable, destination:
Dec 17, 2013, 9:10 PM EST
And what a smart move that is from the current LA Galaxy assistant:
Dec 17, 2013, 8:28 PM EST
At this point, the big surprise would be if Clint Dempsey did not go on loan in January.
Dec 17, 2013, 7:43 PM EST
There are retreads, and then there are retreads who scored over 100 goals for your club. Can Hoddle be Spurs’ Dalglish?
Dec 17, 2013, 7:02 PM EST
Hard to tell if there’s any real progress here, but there was a bit of news today:
Dec 17, 2013, 6:15 PM EST
Fabio Borini eliminates his former club, while an Edin Dzeko double lifts the Citizens at Leicester.
Dec 17, 2013, 5:52 PM EST
In an interview with KingFut.com, the former U.S. national team manager demonstrates why he remains one of the true gentlemen of the U.S. Soccer community:
Dec 17, 2013, 5:12 PM EST
The big 4-0 comes just 10 days after his club raised the MLS Cup trophy:
Dec 17, 2013, 4:40 PM EST
Although he evolved into a problem in Seattle, Eddie Johnson could be a solution for United.
Bayern Munich has easy time in 3-0 win over Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande at FIFA Club World Cup
Dec 17, 2013, 4:27 PM EST
If Bayern Munich wants to remind everyone it has the best team in the world, the Bavarian giants are certainly going about it the right way.
Dec 17, 2013, 3:54 PM EST
High, high praise from the Everton manager for his U.S. international starter in goal:
Dec 17, 2013, 3:22 PM EST
Never mind Jimmy Nielsen’s retirement; the champs appear to be set in goal once again:
- Frank Klopas named Montreal Impact head coach 0
- Real Madrid, Barcelona under investigation from EU 0
- Brad Friedel: Tottenham players backed Andre Villas-Boas 0
- Wondering where this match-fixing business will land? 2
- Manchester City advance, Chelsea bounced in League Cup 0
- Eddie Johnson to D.C. is happening: What this means for Seattle, United 7
- Voting on the U.S. national team all-time Best XI (19)
- U.S. national team discussion: The Alejandro Bedoya conundrum (18)
- Shouldn’t Peter Vermes be in the future U.S. national team coaching discussions? (17)
- NYCFC’s new stadium could be neighbor to Yankee Stadium (12)
- Tottenham is using blood spinning treatment on its players, and nobody seems to know if it’s doping (12)
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- Germany Building Training Facility in Brazil
- Spain Thinking of US Camp Before World Cup
- Don't count out Chile in WC Group B
- Kicking it Off with a Final
- VIDEO: Visa World Cup Promo
- Aurelien Collin: I Think France is Very Very Happy
- Klinsmann Shouldn't Have Been Re-signed Before WC
- You Can't Beat German Sachlichkeit
- Giovani: "We Were Over Criticized"