In Sunday's storybook match between the U.S. and Brazil, it was only logical that Abby Wambach headed in the equalizing goal in the final minute. Not only is Wambach a veteran leader on the team and one of the best American soccer players of all time, but she has a career that perfectly exemplifies the never-give-up attitude the U.S. team has shown historically against the Brazilian squad.
Wambach exploded onto the international soccer scene in 2003 and was named the U.S. Soccer Athlete
of the Year in each of her two first seasons with the national team. In the 2004 Olympics, her extra-time header secured the gold medal for the U.S. team in a win -- over Brazil.
In 2007, she again was named the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year, thanks to an impressive World Cup run during which she scored six goals in six games. What makes the feat even more impressive is the fact that Wambach had to play through pain. In the first game, she had a collision that earned her 11 stitches to her head. Gushing blood, she was screaming minutes after sustaining the injury, not out of pain, but out of frustration that the doctor was taking too long. Within ten minutes, the doctor had stitched her up without local anesthetic and Wambach sprinted back onto the field to help her team recover from the two goals that were surrendered while she was busy receiving medical attention.
Her physical toughness faced an even larger challenge the following year. In the national team's final match before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Wambach collided with a defender, fracturing both her tibia and fibula -- against Brazil.
Fortunately, Wambach learned to be tough at a young age. Raised in upstate New York, Wambach, the youngest of seven children, was often relegated to playing goalie in makeshift pads during family street hockey games. In a Washington Post article, she recalled her four older brothers firing slapshots at her endlessly as well as other torturous scenarios in a variety of sports and roughhouse events.
Despite her incredible durability and courage, Wambach admitted to doubting if she would ever completely recover from her leg injury. Of course, nine months after breaking two bones in her leg, she was back on the pitch. She went on to score her 100th career goal near her hometown in Rochester soon after her return.
Now, she is back on top of the world following her spectacular stoppage-time goal Sunday's match that forced penalty kicks and helped the U.S. earn a spot in the World Cup semifinals. While her recent heroics would have made a fitting cap to Wambach's remarkable comeback, she knows her work isn’t done yet.
Now 30, Wambach is still looking for her first World Cup trophy, and, she entered this tournament nursing an Achilles injury. But as she displayed Sunday, as well as many other times, she still doesn't have any problems throwing her body around to get the job done.