By Grant Wahl
July 15, 2011

FRANKFURT, Germany -- Abby Wambach's sore Achilles? So bothersome that it keeps her from training full-speed. Hope Solo's surgically-repaired shoulder? So painful that it requires injections.

But there's zero chance that the U.S. stars would miss Sunday's Women's World Cup final against Japan (2:45 p.m. ET, ESPN). As these women have captured the attention of America over the past week, millions of mainstream U.S. sports fans have hopped on the bandwagon -- and been blown away by the toughness, both physical and mental, that they're seeing on the field.

On Saturday I'll write more about what to look for in the U.S.-Japan game, but over the past few days I asked several U.S. players: What's the gnarliest thing that has ever happened to you on a soccer field? Here's what they said:


The U.S.' "beast in the air" (as teammate Megan Rapinoe calls her) had a hard time choosing her gnarliest moment, and for good reason. Was it the time at World Cup '07 when the trainer literally stapled the gash on her head during a game (without anesthesia)? Nope. It was the moment she broke her leg against Brazil in the last friendly before the 2008 Olympics.

"When I came to a halt on the ground, I looked down at my knee, and I moved my knee and the foot stayed there," Wambach said. "That for sure was the craziest thing that's ever happened to me."


Solo was quick to show me the giant scar on her right arm from the time in Mexico when she dove to make a save, only for her arm to get punctured and caught on a hook on the goalpost. (Solo's bone was exposed and she went into shock, as she explains here). "I've been through it all," she told me. "I've been kicked in the face. I've been in a fight on the field. I've been punched. Things happen all the time, things that maybe the ref doesn't see."


More than one player said their nastiest on-field moment came in games against Canada or Brazil -- two of the most physical nations in women's soccer. "In my first cap ever, I was in China playing against Canada," Sauerbrunn said. "About 70 minutes in I broke my nose. I had to walk off. They set it in the locker room, and I was playing the next game three days later. They didn't have a facemask, so they had to make one out of different materials."


The U.S. midfielder had her moment against Canada, too. "We were scrimmaging Canada, and I got a gash slice across my knee," Lloyd said. "I was just running, and the girl's cleat split open my knee. The fatty tissues were showing. It was bleeding. I had to get stitched up right off the field." In case I was having trouble imagining what it looked like, U.S. press officer Aaron Heifetz showed me a picture of Lloyd's gashed knee on his cellphone. I about lost my lunch.


The captain and veteran defender is your typical, pleasant Jersey Girl -- but not always on the field. "I remember playing Brazil in 2000 when I went up for a head-ball and a Brazilian just came across and clocked me in the face," Rampone said. "I was like, 'Uh-oh, this is the big-time.' Unfortunately, I retaliated and got a yellow card."

So when you watch Sunday's World Cup final and see Wambach barreling through the air for a header or Solo charging an onrushing forward in the penalty box, think about what it takes to show that fearlessness day after day, game after game, through bruises and cuts and broken bones.

These women are fearless -- and it's one of the reasons why the U.S. is on the verge of winning the World Cup.

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