Thursday Kicks: LA Galaxy, Houston Dynamo in Battle of MLS Dynasties Saturday

  • And the victor at MLS Cup in Carson Saturday can stake a legitimate claim to the “D” word, argues Staff Writer Phil Collin.
  • Southern California’s most popular Mexican owned club — no, not Chivas USA — continues its remarkable and implausible rise to the heights of Mexican soccer beginning tonight in the two-leg Liga MX final against Toluca. Series preview.
  • Next stop for the Galaxy’s David Beckham — Monaco?
  • Diamond Bar’s Alex Morgan continued to stake her claim as the U.S. Women’s National Team’s biggest sensation, claiming her second hat trick of the year Wednesday in a 5-0 pounding of Ireland. UCLA coach Jill Ellis was the stand-in coach and former Bruin striker Sydney LeRoux came on for Morgan and promptly added two more goals. Game story. 

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The Next U.S. Women’s National Team Coach?

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Tom Sermanni has been mentioned as a possible successor to the departing Pia Sundhage as U.S. Women’s National team coach.

So naturally, I asked him whether he would like the job in the tunnel mixed zone after Sunday’s U.S.-Australia game at Home Depot Center:

“At the moment I’ve got a job – a good job. It’s one of those awkward questions,” he said. “Who wouldn’t be interested? … Of course I would be interested, but I’ve got a very good job at the moment.”

I’ll have more on the U.S. Women’s National Team – and women’s pro soccer – in Tuesday’s column.

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Thursday Kicks: USWNT going for Olympic gold & more*

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*Updated:

The U.S. Women’s National Team has won, 2-1, against Japan in the Olympic gold medal game on two goals from Carli Lloyd. Diamond Bar’s Alex Morgan provided the assist on the 8th minute opener. More to come.

*A photo gallery of the game is here.

*Incidentally, Torrance’s Shannon Boxx was back in the starting XI today for the first time since a hamstring issue cropped up in the opening game of the Olympic tournament.

Boxx has overcome worse health issues to become an Olympian, however. Her story is here:

*The USWNT has scheduled a Sept. 16 game at Home Depot Center against Australia as part of its post-Olympic tour. Will this be Boxxy’s final South Bay appearance as a member of the USWNT? Ticket information is yet to be announced.

*In other women’s soccer news, Rolling Hills Estates’ Whitney Engen will play in the inaugural 2012 Viking Cup, an invitational soccer tournament for women’s national teams set for Nov. 21st through Dec. 2nd at Cal State Fullerton. Engen, who missed out on a spot on the Olympic team, was a regular last year for the Chicago Red Stars of the now-defunct WPS.

*And in other news involving South Bay pros, Robbie Rogers, who grew up on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, was placed on the transfer list by Leeds United.

*Finally, Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant says he’s fit to play in Sunday’s SuperClasico.

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Abby Wambach’s Olympic countdown the difference in controversial U.S. win over Canada?

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Oh Canada! Canada’s Sophie Schmidt, left, and teammate Christine Sinclair, react after the U.S. won 4-3 on a last-gasp goal at the Olympics in Manchester (AP Photo).

FIFA is reportedly now taking a look at the post-game accusations made by the Canadians, incidentally. Associated Press Sports Writer Joseph White takes a look at the furor surrounding Monday’s game:

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Abby Wambach was counting. Out loud. Within earshot of the referee.

That’s how medals are won, with moments such as those. A wily veteran using a subtle tactic to get the ref to make a call no one ever makes, one that turns the match around.

When the game for the gold is all there’s left to play, it’s usually fitting to immediately
sweep away the underbrush that preceded it. Not this time. The United States’ semifinal win over Canada in the Olympic women’s soccer tournament was so dramatic — and produced such fiery accusations of bias against the referee from the Canadians — that it’s taking some extra time to digest it all.

“It’s definitely draining,” U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe said Tuesday before boarding the bus to London, where the Americans will play Japan in the Olympic final on Thursday. “We played 123 minutes. And, on top of that, all the emotion.”

The basic facts and bitter words were evident after the 4-3 result at Old Trafford on Monday night.

Diamond Bar’s Alex Morgan scored the winning goal in the final minute of extra time, but it was Wambach’s out-loud timekeeping that led to the game’s pivotal moment: Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen’s decision to whistle the Canadian goalkeeper for holding the ball too long, a call that led to the tying goal for the U.S. in the 80th minute.

It’s a rarely enforced rule, akin to an umpire in baseball deciding the batter hit by the pitch didn’t make a sufficient attempt to get out of the way of the ball. It gave the U.S. an indirect kick, which turned into a hand ball, which turned into a penalty kick.

The Canadians were furious. And they made their feelings known after the game.

Coach John Herdman: “The ref, she will have to sleep in bed tonight after watching the replay. She’s gonna have to live with that. We will move on from this. I wonder if she will be able to.”

Forward Christine Sinclair: “We feel like it was taken away from us. It’s a shame in a game like that, which is so important, that the ref decided the result before the game started.”

Goalkeeper Erin McLeod: “I think the referee was very one-sided.”

Soccer governing FIFA is weighing disciplinary action against Canada for those remarks.
Regardless, when such serious allegations are made, it’s imperative to look closely at what happened.

The goalkeeper is supposed to control the ball with her hands, including bouncing it to herself, for no more than six seconds. In many ways, it’s a laughable rule: U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo is one of the quickest in the game at getting rid of the ball, but it’s not unusual to see her go over that limit.

But McLeod pushed the rule to the extreme. The first time she caught the ball Monday night — off a deflected header — she held it for 17 seconds before punting it away. A couple of minutes later, she controlled it for 16 seconds. There was another 16-second possession later in the half as she cradled the ball, gave it a bounce, walked forward and directed traffic.

“Their plan is to slow down the game,” U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. “If I put myself in (their coach’s) shoes, it’s about game management, slow down the game and you feel like you have a chance to win against the States.”

It’s customary for the referee to give a warning when she thinks the goalkeeper is taking too much time. Wambach said she saw Pedersen give McLeod a warning. McLeod said she was told by a linesman at the start of the second half not to slow down play, but didn’t consider that a proper warning.

Wambach felt McLeod’s time-wasting got worse once the Canadians took the lead. That’s when the American started counting out loud whenever McLeod had the ball.

“It was obviously clear that Canada was trying to bide their time,” Wambach said. “They’re up a goal, and they’re taking as much time as they need. Throughout the game, I was speaking with the ref. She warned Erin throughout the game that she was taking too long. Erin responded with an ‘I understand.'”

With Canada leading at 76:36, McLeod fell to the ground making a
two-handed catch of a corner kick by Rapinoe. McLeod took three to four seconds to get up, still cradling the ball. She started to run forward, then slowed to a walk. At 76:44, she started to direct her players forward. She bounced the ball once, then started to punt it at 76:47.

Wambach was keeping track.

“I had gotten to 10 seconds counting out loud next to the referee,” Wambach said. “And at 10 seconds she blew the whistle, and I think it was a good call. Yes, it’s uncharacteristic for that call to be made in a soccer game, but the rules are the rules.”

“Here’s the thing — we needed a goal,” Wambach added. “They’re trying to waste time, and I’m trying to speed it up. You can say it’s gamesmanship, you can say it’s smart, but I’m a competitor and I want to get the ball back at our feet.”

At 78:03, Rapinoe takes the resulting indirect free kick about 16 yards from the goal. She rams it right into Marie-Eve Nault, who instinctively raised her right arm, with the elbow bent. If she had kept her arms at her side, it’s probably not a hand ball. It’s like an offensive lineman in football who can get away with holding until he extends his arms to make it blatantly visible to the officials.

The Americans were awarded a penalty. At 79:33, Wambach converted the kick to tie it at 3.

The U.S. is now in the gold-medal match against Japan. The Canadians will play France for bronze, having failed to beat the Americans now in 27 straight games.

The U.S. players have no second thoughts about how they won. They do, however, understand why the Canadians said what they said.

“The Canadians are obviously going to be frustrated,” Morgan said. “If I was in their position, I would be frustrated as well and not really want to sugarcoat my interviews. I’d just let it all out — like they did.”

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Hermosa Beach’s Wambach Newcastle “Nightmare” for New Zealand in U.S. Olympics win

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Gymnast tribute: In a nod to Olympic gymnasts, U.S. striker Abby Wambach included a cartwheel in her goal celebration today against New Zealand (AP Photo).

Players with Southern California ties led the U.S. Women’s National Team to the Olympic semifinals today. Asociated Press Sports Writer Joseph White has the game story:

NEWCASTLE, England (AP) — These were perhaps going to be the Hope Solo Olympics for the U.S. women’s soccer team. Or maybe the Alex Morgan Games. Instead, they belong so far to the old reliable, Abby Wambach, who has scored in every match to lead the Americans into the semifinals.

The 32-year-old striker slid onto the ball in the 27th minute Friday to knock home her fourth goal of the tournament and then led a celebration of cartwheels — a tribute to the gymnastics team — in the United States’ 2-0 win over New Zealand in the quarterfinals of the Olympic tournament.

“Everything she does on and off the field, she leads this team,” U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. “She’s in a good place, that’s for sure.”

UCLA product Sydney Leroux added an insurance goal in the 87th minute for the two-time defending Olympic champions, who will play the winner of the Britain-Canada match in Manchester on Monday.

Wambach extended her U.S. record with her eighth career Olympic goal — a mark she holds despite missing the Beijing Games with a broken leg — and pushed her international tally to 142, only 16 behind Mia Hamm’s world record. For most of the year, she has yielded much of the scoring load to youngster Morgan while using both holistic and traditional treatments to treat the nagging Achilles tendinitis that has bothered her for some three years.

“I don’t know if it’s the adrenaline, I’m not quite sure exactly what the reason is, but I’m not
going to ask questions at this point,” Wambach said. “I’m just playing pain-free for the first time in a long time.”

New Zealand coach Tony Readings called Wambach “a nightmare,” and the sight of the 5-foot-11 veteran battling multiple defenders and picking herself up off the ground has become so commonplace that her teammates hardly notice.

“Oh, we turn a blind eye to all of her bumps and bruises,” goalkeeper Solo said. “She hits the floor, she hits the ground, it doesn’t even faze us any more because she’s tough. She might be hurting, but she’s mentally tough. She has more of a lion and a passion inside that nothing will stop her, and she’ll find a way to win. It rubs off on everybody.

“But maybe we should probably go up to her and say, ‘Abby, you OK?'” Solo added with a laugh. “But we just ignore it.”

Wambach’s scoring spurt is remarkable given all the attention she draws from the opposition. Even though her speed isn’t what it used to be, she’s still one of the strongest players in the game and is unmatched in the air — yet three of her four goals at the Olympics have come with her feet.

On Friday, she supplied the finishing touch to some hard work from Morgan, who took a long ball from Rachel Buehler, juked one defender and threaded the ball through two others toward the net. Morgan said it was a shot, but it turned into her third assist of the tournament — finding Wambach’s sliding right foot at the far post.

Wambach and the U.S. players, always looking for novel ways to display their happiness, then ran to the corner of the field and started doing cartwheels before the crowd of 10,441 at venerable St. James’ Park, home of Newcastle United. They tried to stick their landings — something akin to what they saw on television from Gabby Douglas when they watched the American gymnast win the all-around title on Thursday.

“We obviously don’t do it quite as well,” Wambach said. “But we wanted to send a shout out to all the gymnasts.”

No one has publicly criticized such celebrations by the Americans at these Olympics, but the New Zealand coach said it’s something he wouldn’t want to see from his players.

“I wouldn’t like it if our team did that,” Readings said, “when teams concede and they’re
disappointed and they want to get on with the game. But it’s obviously something the Americans do. … It’s something I guess they work on in training. I hope we try to work on scoring goals and stopping Wambach and Morgan. We haven’t got time to work on celebrations. If it makes them happy and they win games, then good on them.”
Sundhage said she’s been fine with her players’ antics.

“I’m not a psychologist,” the U.S. coach said. “We score goals, and you’re happy. What the players want to do, whatever they do, it has to be fun. If they come up with ideas, that’s perfectly fine.”

Solo recorded her third consecutive shutout, although once again she was rarely challenged. The Americans haven’t allowed a goal since France scored twice early in the first half of the Olympic opener. “We haven’t been really tested,” Solo said. “I’m waiting to still get tested, but that’s what happens when you’re ranked No. 1.”

New Zealand, ranked 23rd in the world, was making its first appearance in the knockout phase of a major tournament. The Football Ferns have lost nine straight to the U.S., with their only win in the series coming in 1987.

Even though they’re on a winning streak, the Americans had trouble turning control-of-play dominance into goals for the third straight game. They led Colombia 1-0 before getting two goals late in the second half and beat North Korea 1-0, albeit after slowing the game down in the second half to save their legs for the quarterfinals.

Morgan was just wide with a pair of solid scoring chances, and Morgan and Wambach both had scary collisions with New Zealand goalkeeper Jenny Bindon. Wambach kicked Bindon in the head in the first half, and Morgan did the same in the second half.

Morgan’s collision left her with a charley horse and she soon left for Leroux, the youngest
player on the team and the only one who wasn’t on last year’s World Cup squad. It didn’t take long for Leroux to score her first Olympic goal, outpacing the New Zealand defenders with a run down the left side and beating Bindon with a strong left-footed finish.

There were no cartwheels from the 21-year-old forward after the ball went in. Just unbridled joy.

“I didn’t plan anything because I went crazy,” Leroux said. “I was unaware that I scored, I
think. I blacked out, I’m pretty sure. I was just, like, going crazy. … I think I almost
starting crying and the game wasn’t even over.”

Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

Updated:

The U.S. will face this country in the semis.

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Hermosa Beach’s Wambach scores in USWNT Olympic win

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Slinky celebration? Hermosa Beach’s Abby Wambach, second right, celebrates with teammates after scoring the lone goal of the game in a U.S. win over North Korea as group play concludes in the women’s tournament at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London (Associated Press).

Not a great game or a particularly outstanding performance by the U.S., but mission accomplished as the quarterfinals beckon.

Also, U.S. Soccer said today the USWNT will play its first post-Olympic game Sept. 1 in Rochester, N.Y. against Costa Rica. Rochester is the hometown of forward Abby Wambach, who lives in Hermosa Beach.

international goals.

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Weekly Column: The Olympic Soccer Stage

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Gay for soccer: Rising U.S. star Megan Rapinoe, who came out just before the start of the Olympics and is pictured here scoring against Colombia, is one of several emerging young American stars (AP Photo).

Hard to believe we’re almost a week in to the Olympic soccer competition.

I explored the highlights — and lowlights — we’ve seen so far in this week’s column.

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Wednesday Kicks: Galaxy lose, Chivas win against the same team (sort of) & more

How glad was I to skip a long-mulled holiday weekend trip to Palm Springs? Pretty glad.

Instead I simply stayed away from the keyboard for a few days and by way of catch-up should note that:

*The Galaxy lost yet another preseason game Wednesday at Home Depot Center, although much more important than the result was that Palos Verdes Estates’ Kyle Nakazawa saw his first minutes in a scrimmage since joining the club from the Philadelphia Union and draft picks Tommy Meyer and Bryan Gaul continue to audition for a central defensive slot partnered by A.J. DeLaGarza.

*Speaking of center backs: the Galaxy is making injured stopper Omar Gonzalez available to the media Thursday for the first time since his knee surgery after the club’s closed door scrimmage with Chivas USA.

*The Galaxy have pared their roster to 34, releasing 2011 draft picks Ryan Thomas and Dustin McCarty and 2012 draft pick Stephen Posa from camp. The only minutes Thomas, a defender, experienced was in the meaningless 2011 season finale, while midfielders McCarty and Posa simply had no chance to crack the star-studded Galaxy midfield.

*More important is the early return of Landon Donovan to the club in the wake of yet another sparkling performance for Everton against Chelsea that included an assist on the goal that sealed an unlikely win for the Liverpudlians. Would LD like to stay longer? Oh yeah, and it sounds like that is a more permanent stay is a distinct possibility eventually.

*Chivas USA, playing the Impact’s second-string Wednesday following the Canadian club’s game against the Galaxy, beat Montreal in Carson.

The club unveils its new 2012 jersey at around 30,000 feet somewhere between LA and Guadalajara today and have similarly high hopes for this young highly-rated Ecuadorian newcomer.

*Good to see former Galaxy veteran Chris Albright sign with his hometown team.

*Finally, is Diamond bar’s Alex Morgan poised to become the latest American golden goal to win the nation’s collective heart at this year’s Olympics? Sure seems so.

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Wednesday Kicks: Olympic tickets, Hope Solo on ice & more

*Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza and the U.S. plays Panama at 5:30 p.m. today live on Galavision.

*Mexico faces Chivas USA’s Alejandro Moreno and Venezuela in Houston (live 6 p.m. KMEX). More here.

*FOX Soccer announced today it will air live the FA Cup showdown between Americans Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey when Everton and Fulham meet at noon Friday in the fourth-round game. JP Dellacamera and Eric Wynalda will commentate marking the first time Americans have called an FA Cup match on the channel.

*Individual tickets went on sale today for the Group B matches of 2012 men’s Olympic qualifying in Carson.

Here’s the details from the HDC: The group consists of Mexico, Honduras, Panama and Trinidad & Tobago. Doubleheader events involving these four teams will be held March 23, 25 and 27. The top two finishers from each group will advance to the elimination round in Kansas City.

Fans can order tickets online at ussoccer.com, by phone at 1-800-745-3000, at local Ticketmaster ticket centers in the venue cities, and at the respective stadium ticket offices during their local business hours.

*USMNT goalkeeper Hope Solo is a doubt for the crucial Olympics qualification decider _ and her “Dancing with the Stars” stint was a contributing factor in the injury. AP Sports Writer Joseph White has more:

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Hope Solo has an ailing leg, the result of some extra work she was putting in to get back into playing shape after “Dancing With the Stars.”

The timing isn’t the greatest. The U.S. women’s soccer team is about to play the game that determines whether it goes to the Olympics.

“We have to make a decision whether she is 100 percent to go or not,” coach Pia Sundhage said Wednesday. “And if she isn’t, we have a tremendous backup goalkeeper.”

The United States plays Costa Rica on Friday in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament. The winner goes to London; the loser stays home for the summer.

Solo was clutching her right leg during the Americans’ 4-0 win over Mexico on Tuesday and was wearing on ice pack on the leg after the game. She said she had a “little quad pull,” suffered a few days earlier in practice and aggravated during the first half against the Mexicans.

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Cold as Ice: U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo adjusts an ice pack on her leg following a 4-0 win over Mexico Tuesday in Olympic qualifying (AP Photo).

“Toward the end of the game I was a little worried that I was going to have to come out, but being qualifying and only having three subs, you don’t really want to sub the goalkeeper,” Solo said after the game. “So I definitely knew I could maintain for another 15 minutes.”

Solo has said she lost some of her muscle strength during her two-month run on “Dancing With the Stars,” an appearance that capitalized on the U.S. team’s popularity following last summer’s World Cup. She finished in fourth place with partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy, but the moves involved in executing the perfect cha-cha aren’t the same as the ones needed to stop a header at the far post.

“I’m trying to get my quickness back, and my sharpness back, and my kicking back, so I’ve been focusing a lot on my kicking,” she said. “And I think it just fatigued and it pulled a little bit.”

Solo has played every minute of the Americans’ three games at the tournament, but she hasn’t had to do much. The U.S. team has outscored its opponents 31-0, and Solo didn’t have to make a save against Mexico.

And, on paper at least, a less-than-100-percent Solo or backup Nicole Barnhart should be more than enough to hold off Costa Rica.

Las Ticas are ranked No. 41 in the world have never beaten the U.S., having been outscored 34-0 in seven meetings.

But the Americans are wary about the game because they slipped up in the semifinals of World Cup qualifying 14 months ago, losing to Mexico for the first time ever. The defeat forced the U.S. into a playoff to earn a trip to the World Cup in Germany.

There is no such playoff available in Olympic qualifying, so an upset on Friday would keep the world’s top-ranked team out of the Summer Games.

Solo and her teammates got a needed day off Wednesday following a grueling stretch of three games in five days.

“Luckily going into the next game, the most important game, I’ll have an extra day of rest,”
Solo said Tuesday night. “So I think things should be fine. I’m hoping things will be fine.”

While Solo’s dancing stint brought invaluable attention to women’s soccer, Sundhage admits she was apprehensive after finding out that her goalkeeper was taking part.

“I was scared. High heels?” the coach said with a laugh. “It doesn’t matter what I think.
Obviously she wanted to do it. Obviously it was fun for her, and a lot of attention to the
goalkeeper of the national team. But, honestly, I was scared. That outfit? It was so different from the soccer player Hope Solo I know.”

So was the coach rooting against Solo, perhaps hoping for an early elimination?

“I didn’t vote for her,” said Sundhage, laughing again. “I’ll tell you that.”

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Tuesday Kicks: Hermosa Beach’s Wambach named AP Athlete of Year & more

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Winner Wambach: The South Bay resident, seen here posing today at Home Depot Center where the U.S. Women’s National Team is currently training, becomes the first soccer player – male or female – to win a national AP award. See the full story below (AP Photo).

*There was no column today; my editors opted to keep a end of year column I wrote for next Tuesday. And to answer a reader’s question, blogging will indeed be light during the holidays. I’ll Tweet when necessary at twitter.com@lasoccerblog.

*Chivas USA will play in a preseason tournament in Portland in late February and early March. Full details here.

*Thanks to all who participated in another successful Daily Breeze ball drive.

*Hermosa Beach resident Abby Wambach was named today by the Associated Press as its U.S. Female Athlete of the year.

AP National Writer Nancy Armour has the full story:

CHICAGO (AP) — 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 frenzy rarely seen for women’s sports in the United States.

Wambach’s performance at the World Cup made her the clear choice for the 2011 Female Athlete of the Year in the United States, selected by members of The Associated Press. The U.S. forward received 65 of the 214 votes cast, while teammate Hope Solo (38) was a distant second and basketball player Maya Moore (35) was third.

Wambach is the first individual football 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 behind Brazil forward Marta and Germany striker Birgit Prinz. The 31-year-old American ranks third on the U.S. career scoring list with 125 goals, trailing only Mia Hamm (158) and Kristine Lilly (130).

“When she’s on top of her game,” United States 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.

“I’m not a person who cares much about (individual) awards, but I really appreciate you guys recognizing this team,” Wambach said. “It helps keep this sport alive, and it’s really
important.”

The Americans are the defending Olympic champions, and Wambach and her teammates are currently training in Carson for next month’s regional qualifying tournament.

“I have to say, of all people, I think she is one of the best role models: interacting with
fans, saying good things about the game, saying good things about this country, saying good things about her teammates,” Sundhage said. “I’m very proud of the fact I’ve had the chance to coach her for so many years. It will be a highlight of my career.”

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