Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 2/10/12
With 131 goals in 171 matches and counting with the U.S. Women's National Team, Abby Wambach's spot among the greatest women's soccer players in American history is definitely secure. The 31-year-old veteran's resume is so impressive that to list each and every one of her accomplishments would eat up the balance of this article. But among the highlights are her playing in three FIFA Women's World Cups, one Olympics and the countless other big matches she has hit the pitch for during her storied career for the USWNT. And before she became identifiable as one of the faces of women's soccer in this country, she was quite the player at Florida. Between 1998 and 2001, Wambach was a first-team All-SEC selection each of her four seasons in Gainesville, played on the Gators' national championship team as a freshman in 1998 and left UF as one of their more decorated players in the short yet impressive history of that program. So, it's not surprising that this spring she will be inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as a Gator Great. But enough about her time in the SEC, she has done arguably her best work at the international level. When the USWNT faces New Zealand on Saturday afternoon at what will be a sold out FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco, she figures to be front and center as she continues an international career that has been successful to say the very least. And not surprisingly, it's a dream she wants to see continue. "It seems surreal," Wambach said after training on Thursday. "I think in the latter part of my career, I get all these questions about my career, how long it's been, when is it going to be over and all that. "It gets you thinking about how special and how privileged we all are to be able to play a sport for a living, to especially in my position to have played in three World Cups and world championships, Olympics. And then on the other side, to have found quite a bit of success at doing so, I really am lucky and hopefully I can still play for as long as I want," she said. "We'll see what the body says though." Current USWNT head coach Pia Sundhage has only been at the helm for Team USA since 2007, but during her successful tenure as the club's head coach, she has been impressed with what a veteran like Wambach has provided for her team. "Abby, she's unique," Sundhage said. "Having a player like Abby, a winner and for me she's also a role model. She scores a lot of goals but can also be that energy out there. It's good to have her around." But as well as her current head coach has gotten to know her, there is one of Wambach's teammates who might know her better than anyone, defender Heather Mitts. Not only were the two teammates at Florida, but they have also been playing alongside one another with the USNT, so it's not surprising they have developed a strong bond. That bond dates back to something Wambach remembers from her freshman year at UF. "The standard that was set from when I was a freshman, I remember the second training of preseason, I looked at Heather Mitts actually and in one of those vivid memories, I said 'I don't think I can do this.' I was so tired," she recalled. "I was so sore. I had never been a part of any fitness session like we were in and she just said, 'Well, you just have to. You will.' That's the level of expectation. It's something that set me up for being a professional athlete." Mitts, who was a junior when Wambach joined the Gators in 1998, remembers realizing pretty early that she wasn't your average freshman. "I remember when Abby came in and we knew that she was a top-notch player and we were all really excited that she came to our school," Mitts recalled. "I do remember that she yelled a lot and was very passionate coming in as a freshman, which you don't normally have from freshmen. They're normally very quiet, not in Abby's case. From day one, she brought that enthusiasm, which we really embraced and when she needed my help, I was an upperclassman and was there to lend her a helping hand." And their friendship has only grown from there, so close that the two are now roommates on road trips. "It's great," Mitts said. "We've been together for a long time, so we have that connection. We have that friendship off the field, so it's great to be able to see her grow as a player, be her teammate and to be able to play together for so long." Wambach added: "Heather and I are probably the biggest pranksters on the team. She's already gotten me a few times this camp. We're roommates actually this camp." All told, this USWNT veteran has played in the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2003, 2007 and 2011, when the U.S. finished second. But she has only played in one Olympics, the 2004 Summer Games in Athens. She was named to the 2008 team but was unable to play because of injury. With the 2012 Summer Games in London coming up in just a few months, it's clear she wants another taste of Olympic soccer. But when asked to compare her experiences in the Women's World Cup to her time on the Olympic team, she called the experiences similar yet different. "The World Cup is pleasantly just our own but then there's also that added sense of an Olympic experience where you're a smaller peg and you're a little bit smaller in the grand scheme of things," Wambach said. "You're one full team, Team USA, no matter if you're gymnastics, soccer, whatever. We're all rooting for each other and it's kind of nice too because sometimes you're having a down day, not playing so hot and you get to go home, turn on your television and root on your own team." Whether it's been as a collegian at Florida, in the professional ranks for the Washington Freedom of the WUSA or Women's Professional Soccer or at the international level for the U.S. Women's National Team, Abby Wambach has firmly established herself as one of the big names in U.S. women's soccer. Not only does this Rochester, New York native continue to bring it on the pitch, but she is also an outstanding ambassador for the women's game and a true role model for young players across the nation. Some might think at age 31 she could be nearing the end of her playing career, but there aren't many signs of her slowing down. But there's no time like the presence to see her and her teammates play, maybe like Saturday afternoon in Frisco.
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