Though a gold medal duel awaits Thursday, the 4-3 victory by the U.S. women's soccer team in the Olympics semifinals still is generating headlines about all the twists and turns seen in 120-plus minutes. The game was filled with enough dramatic moments to make an HBO series. The controversial six-second infraction on the Canadian goalkeeper. Megan Rapinoe's unintentionally amazing goal, followed by Rapinoe's intentionally amazing goal. Christine Sinclair's clinical hat trick. And finally, Alex Morgan's last second heroics. I, myself, sent out a tweet saying,
" @alecko11: Best #USWNT game I've ever seen.... And there's still 20 mins left."
In the postgame interviews that followed, some U.S. players cited inspirational words from co-captain Abby Wambach prior to overtime, when she told the team, "It really does just take one chance, one moment of brilliance for someone to do something special." Further, it turned out Wambach helped influence the referees six-second call by continuously counting out loud the seconds that ticked by each time Canada GK Erin McLeod held onto the ball. And, of course, it was Wambach who stepped up to take the game-tying penalty kick to tie the game at 3 and force overtime.
For the better part of the last decade, whether she was scoring goals, setting up chances, inspiring her teammates, or reminding the referee of a rule that exists but is almost never enforced, Wambach has done whatever it takes to make an impact every time she steps on the field in a U.S. jersey.
Four years ago this week, Wambach was feeding instructions to her teammates, yelling words of encouragement and analyzing what it would take to win a 2008 Olympic gold medal. Except then, she was far from Beijing, where her teammates were taking the field. Instead, Wambach did this with crutches in hand from her home in Hermosa Beach, Calif., while recovering from surgery on a career-threatening broken leg injury.
It is now almost considered an afterthought that Wambach broke her fibula and tibia in a warm-up match just prior to the 2008 Olympics, and missed a full year of soccer. After having surgery to insert a metal rod into her leg, there were questions and doubts whether Wambach would ever be the same player, let alone play again.
So as I watch her excel during these Olympic games, I cannot help but think back to four years ago, when I walked about 100 yards over to Abby's house to watch the Olympics. You couldn't help but feel frustrated for her as she helplessly tried to influence games from her couch. And in her own way, she somehow did. Through phone calls, e-mails and barking at the TV, Wambach found some solace in knowing she did what she could to help that 2008 team win gold in Beijing. Now she not only could be the key figure in leading the U.S. to their third straight gold medal, she could open the conversation of perhaps being the greatest American soccer player of all-time.
Though almost taboo, there is no question in my eyes that Wambach has emerged from the shadows of the legendary Mia Hamm and cemented her place as one of the greatest women's soccer players ever. Hamm is an iconic pioneer which no current player could replicate, but comparisons of their effectiveness are now a legitimate talking point. Wambach has been inching closer to surpassing Hamm's record of 158 international goals, and on said she plans on playing for another four years after scoring her 143rd goal Monday. She has now scored in all five games thus far in these Olympics, and will try to make it six on Thursday when the U.S. takes on Japan in the gold medal match. No matter if she does, Wambach again will take the leading role for a team looking to avenge the World Cup final loss to Japan from a year ago.
It will be a special moment for me to see someone on the grand stage again with the opportunity to achieve a feat that seemed unthinkable four years ago. And I can't think of any better way to commemorate it than with a gold medal.