Wambach bruised, closing in on history as U.S. beats Colombia
Abby Wambach was sporting a bruised right eye after being hit by Lady Andrade
Each has a different account of the event and no official apparently saw the play
Wambach now has 140 international goals, approaching Mia Hamm’s record of 158
GLASGOW, Scotland -- U.S. forward Abby Wambach walked into the mixed zone for interviews after Saturday's 3-0 win against Colombia, and if you were standing a foot away from her, as I was, you couldn't help but look at her right eye, the one that was swelling and turning a blue-black color that was unmistakable. Wambach will have an Olympic black eye for the next few days, a grim reminder of what she called the first sucker-punch she had ever received in her life.
It came from the right fist of the creatively (and somewhat inaccurately)-named Colombian midfielder Lady Andrade. During the first half of a game in which Wambach would score her sixth career Olympic goal to break the U.S. record held by Mia Hamm and Tiffeny Milbrett, Andrade ran into Wambach's path during a U.S. foray upfield. Flashing a punishing right cross, Andrade made a direct hit on Wambach's face, crumpling her to the turf in clear pain. Neither Greek referee Thalia Mitsi nor her crew appeared to see the play, and they made no call.
"It's interesting, because you think about yourself and what you'd do on the street if somebody were to sucker-punch you. You have a list of things you'd do to retaliate," said Wambach, who was hoping tournament officials would look at the recording of what happened an issue a response. "But this is the Olympics. I can't risk getting a red card or yellow card. We like to call it 'ice.' Stay ice-cold. What they're trying to do is get me to retaliate. I'm proud of myself for not doing that."
When I asked Andrade in Spanish what happened, she had a version of events that was different from Wambach's?and, frankly, from the replays. "We were both running, and she ran across me and we collided. I had my hands in the air. It was an accident," she said. Andrade added that the U.S. players should face discipline too: "But because they're the United States, the whistle always goes in their favor. They were hitting us and hitting us, but there was never a whistle ... If they start to hit, then obviously we're not going to do nothing."
Wambach said the incident only made her second-half strike more satisfying, but her 140th career international goal also sealed a victory that clinched a berth for the U.S. in the Olympic quarterfinals. So often Wambach scores with her head, leaving her speedier (and younger) sidekick Alex Morgan to finish with her feet in transition. But there was the 32-year-old Wambach on Saturday at Hampden Park, turning on the jets in the box to meet Tobin Heath's terrific through-ball and slam a hard-angled blast past Colombian goalkeeper Sandra Sepúlveda. "Blazing speed!" cracked Wambach afterward.
These days Wambach is chasing history. Mia Hamm holds the all-time record of 158 international goals, and Wambach (140) is in a neck-and-neck battle with Canada's Christine Sinclair, whose two goals on Saturday in a 3-0 win over South Africa brought her career total to 139.
Wambach says she isn't paying attention to the race ("All I'm focused on is winning the gold medal"), but midfielder Megan Rapinoe is well aware that she's pursuing a historic milestone. "We just looked at it the other day in our media guide," said Rapinoe. "That's an incredible feat to do that, to catch an all-time great and to do it in around 180 caps  when Mia had 275. In the modern game, too, the games are so much harder and the competition is so much more difficult."
Rapinoe, too, had a standout game against Colombia, scoring the opener with a well-placed curler from outside the box?she'd noted the goalkeeper's difficulty with shots from distance in last year's World Cup?and assisting on Carli Lloyd's late insurance goal with a piercing pass from the central midfield. Rapinoe is known for her signature goal-celebrations, and she didn't disappoint today, either, pulling out a piece of tape from her sock that wished happy birthday to Ali Krieger, the U.S.'s injured starting right back.
Wambach's black eye may be the image that lingers most, however, a tangible symbol of the physical pounding that she takes every game. "I'm impressed by a lot that Abby does, on and off the field," said goalkeeper Hope Solo. "I feel like in the last couple of years she's grown a lot into a true leader. She used to be the loudmouth trying to pump everyone up, but she felt like she had to. Now it's a realness that she brings to the team. It's inspiring. I look up to Abby more now because of the leadership role she's taken on in a natural way."
"But of course her ability on the field: On that goal today, I don't know how she got her foot on it, sliding in with a defender on her far post past the goalkeeper. She gets the job done."
Wambach has been doing it since 2003 for the United States. And she's not close to being done yet.
Keep an eye on what could be an ongoing story. After the U.S.-Colombia game, goalkeeper Solo issued a series of posts on Twitter criticizing NBC's Brandi Chastain (who scored the decisive penalty in World Cup '99) for what Solo apparently feels is her negative commentary toward the team. It remains to be seen whether the public friction will be a talking point moving forward for a U.S. team that has earned a perfect six points from its first two games.