Abby Wambach aims to further ‘evolve the game’

Abby Wambach hopes to help U.S. women's soccer continue to grow.

Abby Wambach remembers the days when she first started playing for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team and the attendance levels, in her mind, “were at an all-time high.”

“That was even during the Mia Hamm era,” says Wambach, the retired forward whose rookie year on the national team was 2003, and who later won two Olympic gold medals and one World Cup title (2015) during her storied career.

But two years removed from calling it quits, Wambach thinks that women’s and girls’ soccer continues to evolve for the better, and she says that the Danone Nations Cup international youth tournament — which will have its world final Sept. 24 at New Jersey’s Red Bull Arena — is a perfect example of putting that philosophy into effect.

“I want to continue to try to help evolve the game in the U.S. It’s so great to put kids in competitive environments, teaching them the values of winning, and also the values of losing,” says Wambach, who is a Nations Cup ambassador. “These kids are going to experience the highest of highs. And some will experience the lowest of lows. Right now in our day and age, those are some values that are sorely needed in our culture.”

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Abby Wambach an the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team won the 2015 World Cup.

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Wambach, 37, says that during her playing days, one of the arguments she often heard was that women’s sports “don’t generate” enough income or that investors in those sports don’t reap any return. But Wambach says that theory has been squashed with the success of teams like the one she played on for so many years. Women’s soccer in particular, Wambach says, has been riding a wave of popularity ever since she turned pro.

“Winning the 2015 World Cup was the pinnacle. It was epic. Women are now garnering 20,000 to 25,000 (fans) per match they play,” says Wambach. “That means there is actual evidence out there that our national team is not only growing in popularity, but is actually going to benefit from said popularity.”

Wambach says she feels women athletes’ pay scale and female athletes getting “paid what they are due” has improved because of success stories like the women’s national soccer team. And she says that the sport is not just improving in the U.S., but has gained a foothold with fans around the globe.

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Abby Wambach (l.) poses with former President Barack Obama (c). and the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team which won the 2015 World cup.

(SHAWN THEW/EPA)

“For me, having been able to walk away after the 2015 World Cup, seeing how popular and valuable our team had become, it really is a dream come true and a way to cap off my career,” says Wambach. “And it was also a way for me to leave a legacy behind for the younger players to step up. For me, it took me a few years to get my bearings after Mia and the older ’99ers retired. And (future generations) will find their way. It wasn’t always easy for us either. I’m lucky to have had the time on the team, to experience the growth of women’s soccer.”

Wambach says one change she would like to see happen is for club teams in the U.S. to pour more money into their programs. And although Wambach is enjoying her role as a sport ambassador, both for the Nations Cup and for whatever opportunity presents itself down the road, she says she has no regrets about hanging up the cleats in 2015.

“Look, I played probably a couple years longer than my body was wanting me to (play). But I hadn’t won a World Cup. I suffered it out for the last couple years,” says Wambach. “When I was able to win the World Cup, I knew that was going to be my time. To be fair, when you know that your body has literally run all the miles that it could possibly run, you walk away with your head held high.” 

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