CORRECTION: A previous version of this article failed to mention that Wambach is now retired. The previous version also misstated Wambach’s first name as “Amy.”
Retired professional soccer player Abby Wambach has played in 254 international matches. During that span she has scored 184 goals, the most by anyone—man or woman—in international soccer history, according to Team USA. She has two gold medals. She’s a FIFA Women’s World Cup champion. As a freshman in college she led the Florida Gators to a national title. She is a three-time, first-team All-American, four-time first-team All-SEC selection, a two-time SEC Player of the Year, and a two-time SEC Tournament MVP. She has the school record for goals, which she set in 2001 with 96, a record that still stands today, according to the team website.
But if you ask her, Wambach will tell you that those statistics don’t define her as a person. She talks about that and so much more in her new memoir “Forward”. Wambach was recently on tour to promote her book and stopped by Peet’s Coffee in San Francisco to meet with fans.
“In terms of being put in some of these ‘categories’ like one of the best to play the game, those things are honors, but I don’t value myself on what other people deem me worthy of,” Wambach said. “I think that that’s something I got a little bit lost in doing towards the end of my career. Because if we don’t actually feel worthy of ourselves, then no matter how many awards you win, no matter how many goals you score, no matter how successful you get, none of that will matter if you don’t feel it yourself. That’s been a little bit the story of my life. I reached the pinnacle of pinnacles that you could as a women’s soccer player. I won all the awards, I won all the championships, and still something was missing on some level internally and I think that’s why this book is so important for people to read because you can literally be on top of the mountain and not feel like you are.”
It all began for Wambach in Rochester, New York. She’s the youngest of seven siblings.
Soccer by nature is a low-scoring game. Goals are hard to come by, so when at five years old Wambach scored 27 goals in three games her parents and everyone else knew that she had a lot of talent, according to “Forward”. She was then transferred to the boys team. She hasn’t looked back since.
This memoir was tough for Wambach to write. She details her soccer career as well as her struggles with substance abuse.
“My career ended, and I think that now was the right time for me, because in order for me to move beyond soccer, I really needed to make sure that I went through and processed the time that I did play…,” Wambach said. “I had to really digest what happened throughout my career… I wanted to make sure I dealt with all the emotions before I went beyond soccer to the next venture of my career,” Wambach says.
Wambach understands that she has countless young fans that look up to her, and she hopes that this book can help people through their own struggles.
“Even though I was really good at what I did, even though I was one of the best players in the world, even though I helped my team win championships, I was still struggling on some level, and so is everyone,” Wambach said. Nobody talks about the struggle enough. Everybody wants to magnify these beautiful, amazing, shiny parts of our lives. But then there are the moments that we’re alone and scared and depressed and sad or abusing things that we shouldn’t be, and I think nobody talks about that stuff enough.”
As someone who is openly gay, Wambach is a strong advocate for the LGBTQ+ community.
“Because we’ve been so socially conscious, for so long, being a gay woman, I’ve been pleading with the world, ‘become aware of our situation of this LGBTQ fight,’ and now that we have it, we can’t get pissed off about people for saying the wrong word…for people not being educated on something we think that they should be. We have to bring our compassion for people who aren’t there yet.”
Tracey Hamm, head coach of SF State’s women’s soccer team says Wambach’s contributions to the game elevate it to new heights.
“I think she puts it on a global stage. She’s had a lot of success, and made the women’s game more prolific and [show] that we can compete and women athletes are just athletes, and we’re definitely capable of everything that men are. I look up to her and respect her a lot,” Hamm said.
Wambach signed a multiyear contract with ESPN in May as a soccer analyst. While the U.S. national team has lost a soccer star, ESPN has gained one.