Battering ram. Aerial threat. And, as my son Ben texted me after she scored with another bruising header on Wednesday afternoon, "a warrior." Yes, that's a soon-to-be 14-year-old boy (watching the game with his twin brother, Alex) weighing in on the exploits of Abby Wambach, the towering striker for the United States Women's National Team. Gender barriers are being broken here, and with good reason.
Wambach is a study in American wherewithal ... whether she wears a sports bra or not. And, after delivering the tying goal in a helter-skelter FIFA Women's World Cup quarterfinal against Brazil on Sunday, it would only make sense she would push the U.S. ahead in a tight semifinal against France just a few days later. Indeed, after Wambach rose high to head in a goal to make it 2-1, the Yank ladies would cruise on from there and book their place in Sunday's final.
A 3-1 victory over France on Wednesday means the U.S. will face Japan (also 3-1 winners in a semifinal, over Sweden) for the World Cup trophy. It's a chance for the women to lift the cup for the first time since 1999 ... that's when Brandi Chastain's left-footed (her stronger right foot was injured) penalty kick set off a cultural and sporting revolution for women's sports in the United States.
Yet, surveying the evidence on the field these past few weeks in Germany, there's no doubt the nascent nations of world soccer have caught up with the U.S. women ... much like our very own men have closed the gap on the other side. France, in particular, seems to have crafted the possession game that can run a more physically talented team ragged when it comes to possession.
European girls, much like their male counterparts, seem to have been born with the ball at their feet, while the efforts of our girls seem to be a bit more .., shall we say ... labored. But the goal of the game is still to stick the ball in the back of the net, and no one seems to do that better than the U.S. And that's where the skills of Wambach come in. It's easy to make comparisons, and we definitely will do so.
U.S. men's striker Brian McBride commanded the air similarly in his stints with Everton and Fulham of the English Premier League, as well as the Columbus Crew and the Chicago Fire of MLS. But it was with the U.S. National Team that McBride forged his legacy. In fact, when he emerged battered and bleeding from a challenge against Italy in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, his toughness was cemented.
But, you don't have to be covered in the human body's badge of red liquid to be considered a legend in the sport. Wambach is part of a long line of strikers who make their living by depositing the ball into the back of the net via their heads. Alan Shearer, of English National Team and Newcastle fame, grabbed a boatload of goals by making sure his rock-hard forehead was in the right place at the right time.
When you survey the U.S. women's team and its performance, you realize that championships (read: World Cups) can only be won by an across-the-board effort. And, while players such as Wambach and goalkeeper Hope Solo gain all the accolades, a midfielder like Carli Lloyd can get lost in the mix. The Delran, N.J., native knows how to pass, and her amazing backheel led to the team's first goal Wednesday.
Whatever happens in the final against Japan on Sunday, this edition of the U.S women has carved out a legacy that will last for a few national-team cycles. All the elements are there ... a photogenic poster girl in goalkeeper Hope Solo, dogged midfielders like Lloyd and Shannon Boxx and a sort of "pixie-star" of the bench in midfielder Megan Rapinoe. There's certainly no hint of boredom, so enjoy these players.