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Posted: Tuesday November 1, 2011 2:00PM ; Updated: Friday December 2, 2011 12:27PM

My Sportsman: Abby Wambach

Story Highlights

Abby Wambach hardly looks like the type of player who can score at ease

But she has become a soccer luminary and one of the greatest players in history

Her once-in-a-lifetime talent and unrelenting drive make her my Sportsman

By Chris Mahr

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Abby Wambach has evolved from
Abby Wambach has evolved from "just" an elite scorer to one of the finest talents in U.S. women's soccer history.
AP

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 5. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer.

At 5-foot-11 with a bruising style of play, Abby Wambach seems too conspicuous to score goals at the rate she has (125 goals in 162 international matches).

Or so you would think.

The fact that she has been the focal point of the U.S. National Team's offense for the better part of a decade -- and has scored goals at a faster rate than legends Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, Kristine Lilly and Tiffeny Milbrett -- when she's always the player opponents home in on is a testament to her once-in-a-lifetime talent. It's also why she's my choice for SI's Sportswoman of the Year.

But Wambach was deserving of the honor long before her performance at this year's World Cup. Coming out of the University of Florida in 2002 as a four-time All-American, the Rochester, N.Y., native was tasked with carrying the torch for the golden generation of women's soccer after the 1999 U.S. team. Though the U.S. was no longer at the center of the global stage, Wambach quickly made her presence known: a goal against Norway in the 2003 Cup, the gold medal-winning goal in extra time against Brazil in the 2004 Olympics and six goals in six matches at the '07 Cup after receiving 11 stitches in her head after a collision in the first game.

Yet it was just a prelude to what she did in Germany this summer, when she went from just one of the most prolific scorers in U.S. history, to a soccer luminary. Her stunning header against Brazil in the quarterfinals to set up the U.S. for a win on penalty kicks was arguably more enthralling than Landon Donovan's goal against Algeria in the men's 2010 World Cup. She followed with a pair of heart-stopping headers in the next two matches, against France and Japan, as the world watched and expected her to match her previous heroics.

What struck me when the 31-year-old Wambach returned to the States were not the myriad talk-show appearances and high-profile interviews she conducted, but rather the limited time she took off before jumping back on the pitch -- as a player-coach, no less, for magicJack, the now-defunct team in the Women's Professional Soccer league. (After months of bickering between the league and club owner Dan Borislow, the league's board of governors voted to terminate the franchise).

Barring injury, Wambach won't be without a team for a long. She'll be part of the U.S. national team competing in London next August, with the hope of earning her second gold medal. But I'm hoping she'll be around for the 2015 Cup in Canada to chase the trophy that has eluded her the past three trips. By then, opponents may have finally learned how to account for her, but I doubt it. Because as Wambach has shown throughout her career, she'll find her way to the goal.

 
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