Abby Wambach Retires, Lesbians Everywhere Weep and Pin Dreams on Megan Rapinoe

There are a lot of ways to describe Abby Wambach. US Women’s National Team captain. Leading international goal scorer. Dapper suit wearer. But when she announced her retirement yesterday, players, commentators and fans around the world could only described her with the L Word:

Legend.

With 184 goals in 252 caps, two Olympic gold medals, and one world cup victory, this title is indisputable. As a long-time fan of Wambach and the USWNT, I personally went through the four stages of grief in the space of about 15 minutes after seeing the news.

  1. I didn’t want to believe it.
  2. I was angry that when I turned to my girlfriend for support, she had no idea who I was talking about. (Add that to the list of gay things we fight over.)
  3. I was depressed that I’d never see her play live.
  4. And I finally accepted that after giving so much to the sport, she should be allowed to move on with her life.

Beyond her unparalleled stats, Wambach’s leadership has been invaluable to the USWNT. Her poise, dedication, and determination meant that no match was over until the final whistle was blown.

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My personal fan mantra has long been “We got this, we got Wambach.” When my French girlfriend texted me at work to gloat that les Bleues had scored 2 goals in the first 15 minutes of the 2012 Olympic opener, I remained confident.

Seventy-five minutes left, we got this.

When she didn’t text again before my shift ended a few hours later, I knew I was right. A few minutes after I got that text, Megan Rapino got a corner and Wambach headed it in to get the US back in the game. Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd added two more for a 3-2 win. I decided to take the high road and said nothing about the match when I got home. But a text from my girlfriend’s mom did the dirty work for me and she glared when she showed me the message:

Those Americains are just too good.

We can’t help it, I told her, we’ve got Wambach.

Of course, Abby Wambach never won a game alone and I’m not really worried about the future of the USWNT. We’ll face fierce opponents in Rio. But as we saw in the World Cup, there’s no shortage of younger talent on the field ready to take us forward. Wambach will be missed, though. So much has changed over the course of her 15-year career, it’s bittersweet to see the era come to an end.

This year 26.7 million viewers watched the World Cup final, a 41% increase from 1999, and the USWNT could be seen everywhere from talk shows to the (25) cover(s) of Sports Illustrated. The team is currently in the middle of a 10 match Victory Tour that has brought upwards of 20,000 fans to each game. Although the National Women’s Soccer League has traditionally struggled to capitalize on the popularity of the USWNT, the league recently announced a new expansion team, the Orlando Pride (who just signed Alex Morgan, but have sadly yet to announce rainbow-colored kits).

We have grown up on this team together. @boxxy7

A photo posted by Mary Wambach (@abbywambach) on

Over the years, when the spotlight was on the USWNT, right there, front and center, wearing the captain’s armband, was Abby Wambach. Combing back her short, bleached hair. Accepting awards dressed in suits. Kissing her wife. My 13-year-old self could never have imagined it.

When I watched the US win the Women’s World Cup Final in 1999, it was a revelation. I loved sports but only remember seeing women compete in Olympic gymnastics and ice-skating. I’d never seen women’s sports like this. A ninety-minute physical battle ending in a dramatic shoot out. I was convinced I’d just witnessed something extraordinary.

The next day I asked my guitar instructor if he enjoyed the match. In my mind, everyone had watched it. “I don’t like women’s soccer,” he replied, “it’s too slow.” I was furious at his judgment of a game he hadn’t even seen. But witnessing the game had empowered me to reject his quick dismissal as ignorance whereas I might have accepted it as fact just days before.

Of course I would cut my own head out of a selfie with @barackobama thank you for having us!!!

A photo posted by Mary Wambach (@abbywambach) on

Yesterday, while the USWNT visited the White House, President Obama said, “Playing like a girl means you’re a badass.”

Abby Wambach is and always will be, a total badass. Thank you, Abby, for everything you’ve given to the game and your dedication to growing women’s sports. Thank you for being yourself and showing that you can be a queer woman and the best in the game. I sure wish my 13-year-old self could see it all. But even at nearly 30 and more than a little jaded, I am still inspired by you.

What’s your favorite Abby Wambach memory?

I'm a 29 year-old teacher and PhD student currently researching migration in contemporary Irish art. When I'm not working, I watch and play sports, walk my elderly shelter mutt, cook, and irritate French people by constantly using the wrong gender when referring to inanimate objects.

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38 Comments

  1. Man I love Abby Wambach. And Megan Rapinoe’s propensity to hug her frequently. And how after winning, she jogged over and kissed her wife right in front of the cameras (even if Getty Images captioned it “Abby Wambach celebrates with a friend”). And how all-around awesome she is. Thank you Abby! And can’t wait to see the up-and-coming talent.

  2. Well said, thank you so much for this post! I cried when I found out Abby was retiring, mostly because I didn’t follow her from the beginning of her career. Thank god for You Tube though, I think I will spend the rest of my life watching her games!

    My favorite memories of her are of course her 122nd minute goal against Brazil (which I will probably watch on average once a day forever…) and her running to kiss her wife after winning the World Cup. Gets me every time.

    Thank you for never giving up, putting it all on the field, and showing us miracles are possible . Love you Abby!!!

    • If you really want to start the water works flowing, get a box of tissues (or 3) and watch this:

      I am so glad I didn’t see that video until AFTER the final. I don’t have the nerves to handle so many feelings.

  3. The 1999 World Cup final was actually a 120-minute physical battle since it went into extra-time. 🙂

    I haven’t seen Wambach play as much as I’d like (I’m primarily a Germany fan, though little me cheered for the USWNT at the ’99 final, in China no less. But this World Cup has made me fall in love with this team, and what a talented and attractive team it is!), but her post-final celebration with her wife will probably remain in my memory forever. I also really love the moment when Carli Lloyd tied the captain’s armband around Wambach’s arm after she got subbed on.

    I’m really glad she retired on the highest note in her career. The most prolific goalscorer in all international football (including men’s games!) deserves this much. Best wishes to her and the other US players who have hung up their boots after the WC: Shannon Boxx, Lori Chalupny, and Lauren Holiday.

  4. Mixed feelings about this. At her peak, Abby was the greatest soccer player of all time, male or female. I understand that she felt she couldn’t retire before winning a World Cup, but realistically this announcement is a year too late. The state of women’s soccer in the rest of the world used to be bad enough that we could just rely on her brute force to win, but the game got a lot more technical in the past few years and other countries started to catch up to the US, and we need speedy forwards who are good with their feet now, which Abby is… not. Plus there are so many deserving forwards that deserve a look for the USWNT who aren’t getting that because our coach loves to stick with tried and true players who may be a little past their time.

    That goal she scored in the game against Brazil is one of the best goals ever, though.

    • I agree 100% about her peaking prior to the World Cup but she recognized that, which is why I’m not mad that she should have retired sooner. During the World Cup this summer she said “I’m taking it in, and I’m not upset. I accept my role. I accept that my coach trusts me to go in at the end of the game and either get a goal or hold a lead” after the semi against Germany (article here, researched because I didn’t want to misquote). I think she’s retiring because yes, she “got” her World Cup and she’s had a long career, but she sees that the game has evolved. It’s a good time for her emotionally and physically imo

      • True. I’m excited to see what she does next. I can see how doing some sort of management/coaching in women’s soccer with commentating on the side during the Olympics/World Cup.

        Or at least, that’s what I’d like to see.

  5. Fantastic title and a great article. I’ve been struggling to put my feelings about Abby’s retirement into words over the last 24 hours. I’m just going to show people this article from now on.

    Absolute legend/icon on and off the field. What she did for soccer, female athletes, and fans during her career is incredible. Can’t say how much I’ll miss her presence on this team. Thank you, Abby.

  6. I have mixed feelings on Abby’s retirement, mostly because it’s weird to think that next year she just won’t be on the team. She knew and accepted that she’s no longer a 90 minute starter this past year and I loved that she wanted to do what she could to help the team instead of demand more game time. She’s contributed so much to the team and the game and because of that I’m not worried about what we’re going to do without her.

    And of course, the quarterfinal goal against Brazil in 2011 – what a game changer for women’s soccer in the US.

  7. I think while she is retiring, it won’t be the last time she appears forever and ever. Sure, we won’t get to watch her play and the people who get into soccer won’t know her name, but I have a solid feeling about her becoming a coach and seeing some of her next gen take the field someday.

    Who knows, maybe she’ll even become an Olympic coach someday!

  8. Literally a knot in my stomach when I read the headline. Yes I too grieved- the header from ‘Pinoe against Brazil in the last minutes was glorous. One of the best moments in all of Futbol!

  9. I was very fortunate to be at the World Cup final and see her finally win it. Best moment for me was Abby and Rampone walking together to be the last ones to get their medals

  10. i’ve been lucky, i was at the founder’s cup match when mia and abby were victorious and i was at the world cup this summer and saw abby celebrate with her wife sarah, that kiss that melted my heart! but my favorite abby memory happened at the july 4th 2014 portland thorns match. i asked her to sign my red beanie and assured her i would be at the final watching the us raise the cup! she was gracious and thanked me for my army service. i will always love abby wambach
    for being a warrior and a role model and a total badass!

  11. Oh man, Abby is an absolute legend. I’ll never forget one of the first pro sporting events I saw as a kid, in ’04 watching a USWNT friendly back when Wambach was a relatively new player and some of the 99er greats hadn’t yet retired.
    Amazing player, and at the same time it was time for her to go. Not many get to bow out on top of a WC win like that. Truly a huge force in the growth of the women’s game.

  12. I am a big fan of Abby’s and I am thrilled with her accomplishments, including and especially coming out about her marriage.

    My favorite moment was the time I saw Abby Wambach play in a friendly. It was her first year with the national team, and I think it was on TV rather than IRL. I was watching with a lesbian friend from my soccer team, and the minute we saw Abby, we knew she was one of us.

    The other folks on the team, we could speculate about rightly (Briana Scurry) or wrongly (Tisha Venturini), but with Abby, we KNEW. There was a person like us in the national spotlight, someone we could claim as our own. At that time, probably the only out athlete was Martina, Ellen hadn’t been out all that long and hadn’t resurrected her career yet. So it was not that common to encounter a celesbian.

    Congratulations to Abby for your amazing and legendary career, and thanks for being there.

  13. I’ve posted this before, but I love this story too much not to share again…

    About 13 years ago, my wife took me to see a match in San Diego. Mia Hamm was the big name playing; I was watching Abby, saying “I don’t know who that tall blonde player is, but she’s amazing (and I now have a crush)!”

    And then Abby jumped Mia, and rolled her on the ground after scoring. Quite frankly, my brain thinks up any excuse to replay that sequence.

  14. YOU GUYS! Orlando Pride just drafted Ashlyn Harris!!!

    I don’t know that she has “officially” come out, but … well… between the purple kits and their new goalie and the name, this is definitely the gayest club in the history of pro sports, right???

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