Jan 7, 2013, 2:50 PM EDT
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.
May 22, 2013, 6:47 PM EDT
Tom Sermanni has brought new talent into the national team, but it’s too early to know the extent to which the U.S.’s roster will see new faces.
May 22, 2013, 6:02 PM EDT
Cristiano Ronaldo will serve a two-match ban. José Mourinho will skirt it.
May 22, 2013, 5:26 PM EDT
Michele Beadle and friends take a look at what NYCFC means to the New York sports scene.
May 22, 2013, 4:44 PM EDT
We tend to beat up the Chivas organization for its off-the-wall strategic approaches and front-office instability, but what exactly is wrong with the team on the field?
May 22, 2013, 4:03 PM EDT
Yesterday’s announcement included few surprises ahead of the U.S.’s June 2 match at BMO Field.
May 22, 2013, 3:18 PM EDT
Well, what took them so long to get into the party?
May 22, 2013, 2:40 PM EDT
Looks like a mixed bag for the American trio:
May 22, 2013, 2:05 PM EDT
As the towering English forward weighs up his options, should he return to Liverpool, sign for West Ham or go elsewhere?
May 22, 2013, 1:40 PM EDT
With Dortmund’s main attacker threat out injured, can Dortmund still lift the Champions League trophy?
May 22, 2013, 1:15 PM EDT
Can the Yankees provide a viable option for New York City FC to play in? Of course they can. Maybe.
May 22, 2013, 12:30 PM EDT
They have owners and an employee, but now comes the hardest part for MLS expansion club NYCFC. The challenges ahead are daunting:
May 22, 2013, 12:21 PM EDT
The one accolade no EPL player wants on their soccer resume…
May 22, 2013, 11:05 AM EDT
New York City FC announces Reyna as first employee, a good first move, right?
May 22, 2013, 10:06 AM EDT
Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, Red Bull Arena… which venue could work best as a temporary home for New York City FC?
May 22, 2013, 8:54 AM EDT
The magic of the Cup lives on, as four PDL sides now face trips to MLS teams in the third-round. Is this the stuff dreams are made of?
May 22, 2013, 8:19 AM EDT
Pulis joins long list of EPL managers departing… is English soccer becoming more ruthless?
May 21, 2013, 8:02 PM EDT
Wait a minute … didn’t MLS commissioner Don Garber say there “is no Plan B …” beyond the Queens location?
May 21, 2013, 6:40 PM EDT
Well, phooey! Didn’t Dempsey just go through a summer of transfer instability?
May 21, 2013, 4:50 PM EDT
This and that as the U.S. contingent preps to gather in Cleveland ahead of five matches over the next few weeks:
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- A stadium for New York City FC – tougher than you think 6
- Claudio Reyna announced as New York City FC Director of Football 0
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- Another EPL manager goes, as Tony Pulis leaves Stoke City 4
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