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. Who is Houston’s new World Cup mid? Reports say it’s this Honduran

    Jul 25, 2014, 11:24 AM EDT

    Honduras v Ecuador: Group E - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Getty Images

    Dynamo president Chris Canetti made waves when he said the team would be adding to the DaMarcus Beasley signing soon with a World Cup starter.

  2. Maradona blasts Argentina team, says Messi was better when he was boss

    Jul 25, 2014, 11:11 AM EDT

    BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - JUNE 21: Diego Maradona looks on during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group F match between Argentina and Iran at Estadio Mineirao on June 21, 2014 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Getty Images

    World Cup final, so what? Diego Maradona is not pleased with the way his nation played in Brazil.

  3. ‘Hacked’ video shows that French defender to City move is all but done

    Jul 25, 2014, 9:55 AM EDT

    France Training & Press Conference - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Getty Images

    Barring something wild, young Eliaquim Mangala is taking his French national team talent to Manchester.

  4. FIFA says World Cup will stay in Russia, “can achieve positive change”

    Jul 25, 2014, 9:05 AM EDT

    FBL-WC2022-FIFA-QATAR-LABOUR-SLAVERY-UNIONS Getty Images

    It can be the soccer tournament that changes Russia forever (so implies FIFA)

  5. Arturo Vidal may not stay at Juve; Shuts door on Manchester United

    Jul 25, 2014, 7:57 AM EDT

    FBL-ITA-SERIE A- JUVENTUS-PALERMO-SCUDETTO Getty Images

    The 27-year-old Chilean is very much in demand, but also happy at a Champions League club.

  6. MLS Snapshot: Real Salt Lake 3-1 Montréal Impact

    Jul 25, 2014, 1:21 AM EDT

    Olmes Garcia

    Olmes Garcia’s second half double lifted RSL.

  7. DaMarcus Beasley, introduced in Houston: I see myself as a left back

    Jul 24, 2014, 11:25 PM EDT

    DaMarcus Beasley

    Introduced to the media in Houston, Beasley said he’s move on from midfield.

  8. Wenger talks Zelalem, gets taste of U.S. obsession for potential international

    Jul 24, 2014, 10:24 PM EDT

    Wenger Getty Images

    With Wenger interview, SI had to get Zelalem out of the way first.

  9. Henry, on Suárez sale: ‘We needed more depth’

    Jul 24, 2014, 9:16 PM EDT

    BRITAIN-US-FBL-ENG-PR-LIVERPOOL Getty Images

    Reds’ owner does not want a repeat of last year’s weaknesses.

  10. Barclays Premier League LIVE: Select U.S. theaters to show games during the 2014-15 season

    Jul 24, 2014, 8:02 PM EDT

    Premier League logo

    NBC Sports and Fathom Events are taking Premier League soccer to the big screen.

  11. 11 Things From AC Milan’s Training Session in New York

    Jul 24, 2014, 7:10 PM EDT

    mario-balotelli-cosmos-1000

    Balotelli, Honda, Muntari, and more from the Rossoneri’s N.Y. training.

  12. Jorge Luis Pinto will not return as Costa Rica head coach

    Jul 24, 2014, 7:04 PM EDT

    jorge_luis_pinto AP

    Pinto will depart after failing to come to new terms with the federation.

  13. Everton adds 21-year-old Bosnian midfielder Muhamed Besic

    Jul 24, 2014, 6:12 PM EDT

    muhamed_besic AP

    After appearing three times at Brazil 2014, Besic is set to add depth behind Gareth Barry and James McCarthy.

  14. Serbian club FK Jagodina set to sign Freddy Adu

    Jul 24, 2014, 5:21 PM EDT

    Credit: Blackpool Gazette Credit: Blackpool Gazette

    Adu close to joining the 10th club in his 11-year career.

  15. U.S. prospect Rubin suffers broken nose, concussion with Utrecht

    Jul 24, 2014, 4:08 PM EDT

    rubio rubin

    After seeing time with the senior squad, 18-year-old prospect will be sidelined indefinitely.

  16. WATCH: Radamel Falcao’s batting cage cuts send pitcher diving

    Jul 24, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 2.45.37 PM

    The Colombian striker takes a few hacks before AS Monaco’s friendly in Miami against Atletico National.

  17. Andy Carroll’s out a week, or four months (depending on who you trust)

    Jul 24, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT

    article-2704570-1FCE5BED00000578-747_634x382 Getty Images

    Limited to just 16 matches last year after his big transfer from Liverpool to West Ham, Carroll is battling another ailment this season.

  18. Jay DeMerit’s retirement letter is as grateful, humble and classy as you’d expect

    Jul 24, 2014, 2:09 PM EDT

    South Africa Soccer WCup US Algeria AP

    The rags-to-riches defender steps away from the pitch, at least as a player, while reflecting on his career journey from North America to Europe and back.

  19. EXCLUSIVE: Manchester United’s new signing Ander Herrera focused on success

    Jul 24, 2014, 1:46 PM EDT

    Manchester United v Los Angeles Galaxy AP

    Herrera chats exclusively to PST: “If we are a humble team and we work hard, we will achieve our objectives and we will win trophies.”

  20. Son of Mexican national teamer says he’ll represent United States

    Jul 24, 2014, 1:26 PM EDT

    Twitter.com/ferarceJr Twitter.com/ferarceJr

    His dad played for El Tri, but California-born Fernando Arce Jr says his U-20 bow with the States makes him an American player “forever”