One of the most decorated women’s soccer players on the planet, Abby Wambach, added another chapter to her storybook career by playing as a professional for her hometown team Wednesday night when she took the field at Sahlen’s Stadium for the Western New York Flash.
Not surprisingly, she did it in style. Wambach scored the game-winning goal as the Flash earned their first win of the season, 2-1, over Sky Blue FC before an announced crowd of 2,127.
“I think that I have something to prove every time I’m playing in Rochester,” Wambach said after the game. “I don’t know if it’s because my family is up in the suites enjoying themselves and all of Rochester expects me to step up and be their darling. I’m fine with that role. I’m OK with the expectation because it continually challenges me, and it pushes me for the entire 90 minutes. I’m expected to score goals and I’m expected to lead.”
Wambach missed the Flash’s home opener Saturday because of a head injury, but showed from the very beginning Wednesday that she was ready to play. The Pittsford native and reigning FIFA World Player of the Year helped set up the Flash’s first goal at the 5-minute mark by dragging a defender with her to clear space in front. That left room for forward Adriana Martin to deposit a perfect centering pass from Samantha Kerr and give the Flash a 1-0 lead.
Wambach made it 2-0 in the 20th minute, capitalizing when Sky Blue defender Christie Rampone misplayed a ball in the penalty area.
“I’m not as worried about my individual goals, but if my scoring goals helps this team win games, then I’m doing my job,” Wambach said.
Wambach has been a part of two gold-medal winning Olympic teams and scored 155 goals in 204 U.S. national team appearances. That’s just three off the record of 158 held by Mia Hamm.
“Abby wouldn’t like it if you used the word ‘star,’ but she’s been the flagship of women’s soccer in the U.S. for probably the last … 10 years. She continues to be that person,” U.S. Women’s National Team coach Tom Sermanni said before the game. “What great humility she does it with. She’s not a big-timer considering what she’s done and how much she’s achieved in the game. She’s a great ambassador for women’s football.”
Wambach’s presence is a coup for the Flash. It’s been an alphabet soup of leagues for the Western New York franchise – which trains in Elma – starting in 2010 when the Buffalo Flash won a W-League championship. Renamed the Western New York Flash in 2011, the team won the Women’s Professional Soccer championship in its inaugural season, but the league suspended operations before the 2012 season began.
Last year, the Flash played in – and won – the WPSL-Elite League championship.
“I think this is the third attempt at the league so obviously it’s not a secret that there’s probably some skepticism there about the standard of the league and other question marks about it,” Sermanni said. “But to be honest up to now, the quality of the games has been very, very good. The crowds have been terrific and there’s been a real positive atmosphere about the place, so from our perspective it’s been a great start.”
Wambach knows the Flash – and the eight-team WPSL as a whole – have work to do in carving out their own piece of the American sports landscape. The announced attendance Wednesday was in reality maybe half of that.
“It’s a mid-week game, so I get it. People are busy, probably at their own soccer practice. But there’s a sense of, you know what, these three points hopefully will do something not only for this team and its confidence, but for the confidence in its fan. I know that people want to go see a winning team, and that’s our job,” she said. “I’m excited to see how this all unfolds and I hope that Rochester can really get around and feel how much we want to input ourselves into this community. I came home to play in front of my crowd, and I want to show off this town. I hope people continue to support this league, because it’s still a new league, and we need the support.”
The Flash improved to 1-1-2 with the win, tied for third in the standings in the young season.
The future appears bright with a budding superstar in the 19-year-old Kerr, who’s second in the league in points. And, of course, a healthy Wambach.
“Athletes are judged on performance particularly in big arenas, and she has never failed to perform in a big arena,” Sermanni said. “That’s what she’s got. She’s got that ‘X’ Factor that’s able to do that, as well as a great football brain.”
The Flash made a roster move earlier in the week, trading defender Melinda Mercado to the Boston Breakers for a second-round pick in the 2014 NWSL College Draft. … The Flash continue a four-game homestand at 7:35 p.m. May 11 when they host FC Kansas City.