With the final seconds ticking down and the Americans on the verge of their earliest exit ever from the Women’s World Cup, Abby Wambach kept waving her index finger at her teammates.
One chance, she screamed, all they needed was one chance.
When it came in the form of a left-footed cross from Megan Rapinoe, Wambach pounced. With one vicious whip of her head, she changed the course of this year’s World Cup and sparked a nationwide frenzy rarely seen for women’s sports.
Wambach’s clutch performance at this summer’s World Cup made her the clear choice for the 2011 Female Athlete of the Year, selected by members of The Associated Press.
The U.S. forward is the first individual soccer player – man or woman – to win one of the AP’s annual sports awards, which began in 1931. The U.S. women’s team won in 1999, when their World Cup triumph at the Rose Bowl transfixed the nation.
“We, as a team, did something that no team since Mia Hamm was able to do,” Wambach told the AP. “Even the team that won the (Olympic) gold medal in 2008 wasn’t able to inspire and get people excited about women’s soccer. It goes to show you the impact drama can bring.”
Wambach’s four goals in Germany give her 13 in three World Cup appearances. That’s the most by an American, topping Michelle Akers by one, and puts her third on the all-time World Cup scoring list.
“When she’s on top of her game,” U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said, “she’s one of the best in the world.”
Wambach was certainly at her best at the World Cup, leading the Americans to the final, where they lost to Japan on penalty kicks.