Lost amidst the country-wide social media explosion Thursday night during Game 7 of the NBA Finals was a record-breaking performance in women’s soccer. Abby Wambach made history in Foxborough, Massachusetts when she scored her 159th career international goal, breaking Mia Hamm’s record of 158 career goals. It was a monumental achievement in a legendary career, and Americans rejoiced when she booted the record-breaker past South Korean keeper Kim Jung-Mi, her third of four goals in the match. Wambach breaking the record opened the debate once again over who the greatest player in U.S. women’s soccer history really is, with Hamm and Wambach always being the two names in question. I’ll set out to settle the “Abby vs Mia” debate once and for all, as well as evaluate whether Alex Morgan will eventually eclipse both players one day.
Mia Hamm was the greatest player the world had ever seen in her prime. She scored the 158 goals in 275 games (known as “caps”), but what fans may not know is that her 108th broke the record for any international player, male or female. She was the original women’s sports prodigy, becoming the youngest to ever play for the U.S. national team at just 15 years old. And her career with the national team was remarkable; she always stepped up when her team needed it most. Two Olympic gold medals (and a silver), two women’s World Cup championships, and a championship in the now-defunct Women’s United Soccer Association make for a decorated trophy case, and Hamm wouldn’t have had it any other way. The American public may have put her on the highest pedestal and treated her like a soccer god, but all she cared about was getting wins. All of the endorsements, commercials, and articles written were irrelevant to her if the United States lost a major tournament. And her competitive spirit was unmatched, which will be her lasting legacy to many fans. The image of Mia Hamm lining up a free kick with her fierce, cold eyes aimed at the goalie, blocking out all the noise around her, will always be one of my first memories of the Olympics. She would have puddles of sweat streaming down her hair, every other player would be winded and ready for the final whistle to blow, but #9 was just getting revved up. In crunch time, there was no player any American soccer fan would have rather had taking the kick. Her legacy will live on forever.
With all due respect to past interviewee Marta, Abby Wambach is the greatest player of this decade and newer generation. Her 160 goals have come in just 208 appearances, 67 fewer than Mia Hamm totaled in her career. And the important thing about Wambach’s career is that she’s not done yet. At 33 years old, we have no indication that Abby is going to retire from the game of soccer before she plays another Women’s World Cup and another Olympics. She will be 35 at the World Cup and 36 at the Rio de Janeiro Games. If the U.S. wins both of them, and she retires after those Olympics, Abby would finish her storybook career with three Olympic gold medals and the elusive World Cup championship she’s fallen short of winning three times. All in all, she would have one more Olympic gold medal than Mia, but one fewer women’s World Cup title. However, she will have the advantage of having scored much more than Hamm did, in around the same number of caps when her career’s all said and done. And like Hamm, Wambach has a fierce, can-do attitude. When a fatigued player is on the field, like she says in her Gatorade commercial, she is easy to spot. Who could forget all of the headers that found the back of the net, especially the goal against Brazil with Team USA finding their backs against the wall?
In the end, I’ll give Abby Wambach a slight edge over Mia Hamm when it comes to who had the better career. Is it a slight against Mia? I don’t intend it that way. When a player comes along that breaks another great’s records in a bigger, faster, and more competitive game, you have to accept that what you’re watching is a bit more impressive than what you saw before. Both players are incredible and have made the United States the women’s soccer powerhouse it is today. You can’t take anything away from Mia Hamm for making the sport popular in America, and you can’t take anything away from Abby Wambach just because people have thought of Mia Hamm as the greatest of all time for so long. Which brings us to young superstar Alex Morgan. When it’s all said and done, will her legacy be even greater than Wambach’s? At just 23 years old, Morgan has scored 44 goals in 66 caps for the international team. Let’s do the math: 44 goals divided by three and a half years is just under 13 goals a season so far in Alex’s career. Now multiply 13 and 10, and you get 130. Add the 130 and 44 and you get 174 goals, the projected number of goals she will have at Wambach’s age, 33 years old. If that projection was correct or even off by ten goals or so, Alex Morgan would have passed Abby Wambach’s 160-goal mark. Abby will score more goals before her career is over, so Alex would not break the record at age 33, but she would certainly break the record by the time her career was over. Would she be the greatest of all time? If I give Wambach precedence over Mia Hamm, I would probably have to give Alex Morgan the edge over Abby. Will someone come along who’s greater than Alex Morgan then? Only time will tell, but I’m excited for the future of U.S. women’s soccer.
Agree? Disagree? Drop a comment or hit me up on Twitter @chuckiemaggio