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.
Jan 25, 2015, 12:54 PM EST
After yesterday’s FA Cup craziness, things were restored to normal today as all three Premier League sides went through, despite some nervy moments.
Jan 25, 2015, 11:43 AM EST
Anderlecht fans responded to their former player – now with their arch rivals – in a very mean way. Defour reacted accordingly.
Jan 25, 2015, 10:46 AM EST
Four goals in his last four games has Paul Pogba on top of the world.
Jan 25, 2015, 10:16 AM EST
Aston Villa secured the services of midfielder Fabian Delph, and while that should have been an exciting announcement, the club blew it up a little too much and it fell flat on its face.
Jan 25, 2015, 9:23 AM EST
Mohamed Salah just needed signatures to make him a Roma player, but now the Italian club could be headed in a different direction.
Jan 25, 2015, 7:52 AM EST
Which is Balotelli and which is the practice dummy? It sounds like it’s harder for Brendan Rodgers to tell every day.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:00 PM EST
The bitterness is flowing freely from Falcao’s agent as he plots the Colombian striker’s next move to a “world’s best-seven team.”
Jan 24, 2015, 8:45 PM EST
If MLS is good enough for Italian national teamers, why isn’t it good enough for U.S. national teamers?
Jan 24, 2015, 7:45 PM EST
Barcelona were stunning as they put a half-dozen past Elche, while Real stumbled to victory. Elsewhere, AC Milan are very bad.
Jan 24, 2015, 7:04 PM EST
The Baby Yanks are headed back to the Big Dance this summer.
Jan 24, 2015, 5:45 PM EST
A number of PL giants fell on Saturday, leaving Arsenal, West Ham and Aston Villa shaking in their boots.
Jan 24, 2015, 4:54 PM EST
The squad is set for the first games of 2015, following a late addition and a number of cuts.
Jan 24, 2015, 4:20 PM EST
After four games played, absolutely nothing separates any of the four teams in Group D. Nothing.
Jan 24, 2015, 3:23 PM EST
“Frustration is not the right word, embarrassed would be more appropriate.”
Jan 24, 2015, 2:51 PM EST
Catch up on all the latest rumors and gossip, right here.
Jan 24, 2015, 2:08 PM EST
Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off for Real Madrid, but Gareth Bale saved three points with a late-game penalty.
Jan 24, 2015, 1:16 PM EST
Chelsea, Manchester City and Southampton were all upset in one of the craziest rounds in FA Cup history.
Jan 24, 2015, 12:29 PM EST
Another Premier League giant is out of the FA Cup as Middlesbrough got the result of a lifetime.
Jan 24, 2015, 12:05 PM EST
Madness at Stamford Bridge as The Bantams came from two goals down to knock Chelsea out of the FA Cup.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:38 AM EST
Middlesbrough are poised to knock the defending Premier League champions out of the FA Cup.
- FA Cup Roundup: Upsets halted with West Ham, Villa, Arsenal wins 0
- Rodgers says Balotelli needs to vastly improve before playing for Liverpool 0
- Italy head coach Antonio Conte supports Sebastian Giovinco’s move to MLS 7
- USMNT U-20s defeat El Salvador, 2-0, qualify for 2015 U-20 World Cup 1
- Jurgen Klinsmann names 23-man roster for USMNT friendlies vs. Chile, Panama 0
- Africa Cup of Nations roundup: Ivory Coast, Cameroon in 1-1 draws as Group D up for grabs 0