Remember when Abby Wambach was mired in a scoring drought coming into the 2011 World Cup? As I recall, she scored her first goal of the tournament in the final group stage match against Sweden, having only scored one goal in 10 matches prior to that.
With the way she’s playing now, it’s almost hard to believe.
There’s no denying Wambach is at the top of her game right now. The 32 year old striker has scored a goal in each match of the U.S. Women’s National Team’s Olympic campaign so far, bringing her career total to 142. “Old Faithful” has stayed composed under pressure, cutting into France’s 2-0 lead early in the first match with a classic header off a corner kick. Against Colombia, she tacked on a late insurance goal after getting punched in the face and knocked to the ground by Lady Andrade.
Nothing is keeping Abby Wambach from realizing her goal of winning that Olympic gold medal.
But Abby Wambach isn’t better these days just because of her composure or resilience, nor her strength or will to win. She is playing her best soccer right now because of the support she has around her, because she doesn’t have to do it all herself anymore. She has relied not just on getting down the field to get on the end of a long service, but has collaborated with Alex Morgan to create opportunities and evade defenders, leading to her scoring the lone goal in the final group match against North Korea.
Though only playing with each other consistently for six months, Wambach and Morgan seem as if they’ve been playing together for ages. Against New Zealand today in the quarterfinals, the duo teamed up again for the go-ahead, and ultimately game-winning, goal in the 27th minute, anticipating each other’s movements and position with ease. This time, Morgan took the ball over the top from Rachel Buehler into the penalty area, worked her way around her defender with what is becoming patented Alex Morgan footwork, and then drove the ball toward the far post, where Wambach was just sliding in to finish from close range. Clinical.
Unlike New Zealand, who made their first quarterfinal appearance in an Olympic tournament, the U.S. is intimately familiar with the knockout stages of major tournaments, but you wouldn’t know it early on. Morgan missed a sure goal if there ever was one 10 minutes into the match, sending the ball just wide right after beating the New Zealand goalkeeper Jenny Bindon and facing an open net. Morgan and Wambach both missed again soon afterwards, as Morgan couldn’t get a touch on a Megan Rapinoe cross right in front of goal, and Wambach’s attempt to finish with her left foot at the far post couldn’t quite get on target, sailing wide left. But with the one-two punch of these two, it was just a matter of time before they connected for a score.
Morgan was denied on multiple opportunities throughout the match, including on a late collision with Bindon, who had come out of the box as the last defender, taking Morgan’s knee her face and sending the forward flying into the penalty area. No foul was called as both were attended to by medical staff before remaining in the game.
Perhaps she was frustrated by the time she came out for the new super-sub, Sydney Leroux, in the 87th minute, having not scored since her two goals in the opening match against France. But even when she hasn’t been on the scoresheet, Morgan’s teamwork with Wambach has been critical to the U.S.’s scoring opportunities.
While making way for the future of the USWNT in Morgan and Leroux, who scored her first Olympic goal in the 87th minute against New Zealand, Wambach has proven why she is the clear leader of this team. She’s not just defined by the number of goals she’s scored in her career, or in the Olympic Games. She doesn’t have to put everything she touches in the back of the net anymore. She’s able to involve herself in more areas of the attack, from the midfield into the penalty area, opening up her game to become more multi-dimensional. And with that, Abby Wambach has put herself and her team in a position to do whatever it takes to win that gold medal.
The U.S. will face Canada in the semifinals on Monday at 2:45pm EST on NBC Sports Network. Keep an eye here at Aerys Soccer and follow us on Twitter at @AerysSoccer for more commentary on the rest of the quarterfinal matches and as we look ahead to the semifinals.