Western New York Flash

Dear Abby

Dear Abby,

Four and a half years ago, the only soccer I ever watched was youth soccer matches for teams a few of my friends played on. I didn’t know much about the game, except the few things I learned from watching those matches. In fact, at the time, I wouldn’t even refer to them as matches (which goes to show how far I’ve come since then). Something changed in the summer of 2011 though. Something that would eventually impact my life in the biggest way possible. Something that wouldn’t have happened without you. But to get to that point, it’s best to discuss the kind of player you are and the impact you’ve made in your time as a soccer player.

You’ve been playing soccer for quite some time now. You played as a child, a teenager, and as an adult. You’ve played for youth clubs, your high school, your college, The University of Florida, and the Olympic Development/U.S. national program (and maybe even other teams that I’m missing). You’ve played for professional clubs (Washington Freedom, magicJack, and Western New York Flash) throughout your career too. Most importantly though, you began playing international, professional soccer for the United States Women’s National Team over 14 years ago. You got your first cap on September 9, 2001 against Germany during the Nike U.S. Cup. You scored your first international goal on April 27, 2002 in a friendly against Finland and it’s only gone up from there.

You’ve went on to play in 254 matches (255 if you count tonight), including 4 Women’s World Cups, 2 Olympics, and many other tournaments, friendlies, and victory tours in between. You’ve scored a total of 184 international goals (and counting if you score some tonight), many of those with your head, and you’re the United States’ all-time leading goal scorer (for both men and women). You’ve won the World Cup (2015), Olympic Gold (2004, 2012), and the FIFA Player of the Year Award (2012).

Your impact has been great off the field as well. You’re an ambassador for women’s pro soccer and for equality in the women’s game. You’ve supported many causes and charities throughout your career. You’re even a role model in the LGBTQ world as an out professional athlete, even though that was never your intention as a soccer player. You also have an extreme passion for and dedication to Chipotle, possibly greater than mine, especially since you scored a personal burrito card (I’m super jeal).

Despite all your accomplishments, you never take all the glory. You always give the credit to your teammates and to those who put you in the position to be great. You influence and inspire those around you to be better, no matter your role. In all these ways, you really have been an impact in every aspect of your life, so now I guess I should explain how and why you impacted me. Back to the summer of 2011.

That summer you and your national team teammates competed in Germany in the Women’s World Cup. You reached the quarterfinals of the tournament after finishing second in your pool. You played Brazil and I think you remember what happened from there. After playing a man down for 25 minutes in the second half and all of extra time, your team was down by 1 entering the stoppage minutes of extra time. In a last ditch effort to tie the match, Megan Rapinoe took the ball up field and sent in the greatest cross of her life to the far post where the ball met your head as you easily directed it into the back of the net. Tie game. End of extra time. Next came the PKs. Every player (including you) nailed their shots and Hope saved one. You guys won and it sparked news all over the country. That’s when I heard about it. After that I thought, “Hmm, maybe I’ll tune into the next game.” I did and I was hooked. I watched your last two matches that summer. I cheered for most of you guys by name in the final and sadly, I watched you lose to Japan on PKs. It was at that moment that I declared out loud to myself, “They’re gonna win it in four years.” (And just an FYI, I was right!)

In the four years since the 2011 Women’s World Cup, I fell in love with the game and the national team. It was slow at first, because I really didn’t start following your team closely until after the 2012 Olympics. But when I did, it was all because of what happened in 2011. I wouldn’t have cared to watch the Olympics that summer if I didn’t already know about you guys and think to myself, “Oh yeah, I love that team! They’re beasts.” I watched almost every game of your Olympic tournament that summer, including that crazy semi-final against Canada, and the gold medal winning match against Japan. From that point on it snowballed. I was inspired by so many players, a few in particular and you included. Your diverse stories and personalities inspired me to change and accept things about myself that I never had before. It was life-changing. I truly believe I’m a better person because of it.

Without that goal in 2011, who knows if anything would be the same. I know for certain my life wouldn’t be where it is today without it or without you. Although maybe I should take a page from your playbook, thank Pinoe for the cross, and the rest of the gals for playing their hearts out  during the quarterfinal and rocking their PKs. You’d probably tell me I should, but for now, you deserve some credit too, so thanks for using your head and scoring that goal!

Even though your playing career ends tonight, I know you’ll still impact the game through whatever you decide to do. I hope you finally have the time to do all the other things you love and want to do, including playing golf and starting a family with your wife, Sarah. It might even be a great time to start campaigning for the position as the President of FIFA, or at least a spot on the board. I heard they have some availability. I also heard you wanted to change the world, but I think most can agree you’ve already done that. I guess you can always just do it in a different way the next time. We all know you’re capable of it. No matter what though, I can’t wait to see what other great things you have in store for the future, because greatness runs inside you.

Lastly, before your final game in your illustrious soccer career, I wanted to say thanks. Thanks for being a world class athlete. Thanks for having that “American mentality” and the drive to never quit, despite the odds. Thanks for accepting and embracing every role you’ve been asked to play. Thanks for motivating your teammates to succeed and giving them all the credit. Thanks for inspiring me, this nation, fans, and others throughout the years. Thanks for being true to yourself while in the spotlight and most importantly, thanks for being you, the GOAT, Abby Wambach.

Sincerely,

An Inspired Fan

 

 

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The National Women’s Soccer League

When I started this blog, my very first post was about the NWSL championship last season between FC Kansas City and Seattle Reign FC. As you know, if you’ve been following since then, I’m pretty into women’s soccer, but I’ve never gone in depth about this league I’ve been following for the last 2 years, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Since I started this blog at the end of last season though, I haven’t had the chance. It was the off-season. There have been other soccer things going on (like World Cup stuff with the USWNT..my first soccer love). You get the picture. While I was at Coachella two weeks ago (can’t believe it’s already been that long), the NWSL kicked off (no pun intended) it’s third season with a matchup between the Washington Spirit and the Houston Dash. With the start of a new season, it’s the perfect time to write about the league (since I finally settled down after my epic Coachella weekend of course).

The NWSL began in 2013 as the United States top professional soccer league for women. The Women’s Professional Soccer league (WPS) formerly held that title from 2007 until it folded in 2012. When developing the NWSL, the idea was to create a stable professional league for women in the U.S. that could withstand the factors that lead to the downfall of other top women’s pro leagues before it (WPS and the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA, 2000-2003)). With the involvement of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA), and the Mexican Football Federation (FMF), the NWSL seemed to start with a better foundation than the other leagues.

At it’s start in 2013 the league was comprised of eight teams, the Boston Breakers, the Chicago Red Stars, FC Kansas City, Portland Thorns FC, Seattle Reign FC, Sky Blue FC, the Washington Spirit, and the Western New York Flash. National team players from the USSF, CSA, and FMF were allocated to all eight teams in an even distribution to prevent teams from being stacked with talent, and thus making the league more competitive and exciting to watch. Also, since players from the United States, Canadian, and Mexican national teams were required to play in the NWSL, their respective national team programs paid their salaries, which allowed for some breathing room in the money department for the league so to speak (it still works this way).

Like other professional sports markets, the NWSL has a draft every year giving teams an opportunity to add top college talent to their squads. USWNT mid-fielder Morgan Brian was number one overall at this year’s draft. She was drafted by the Houston Dash, who was added to the league last year as its first expansion team. There are currently other markets looking to join the NWSL, but I’m guessing with the World Cup this year it was difficult for more expansions to occur in the 2015 season. Also because of the World Cup this summer, the league will be taking a break during the World Cup group stage. Since the league is comprised of players from not only the United States, Canadian, and Mexican national teams, but national teams such as England, Germany, Australia, etc. many of the league’s players will be competing in the tournament (so the NWSL will be missing a bunch of players on their normal rosters). If a national team fails to make it past the group stage, players who play on that respective team will return to their NWSL teams. To compensate for the World Cup break, the league will finish in late September compared to the last week of August as it has done the past two seasons. I’m guessing it may follow a similar format for the Olympics next summer.

Around the time the league began is when I started to really follow women’s soccer, the USWNT in particular (got into it a bit in 2011 during the World Cup but after the 2012 Olympics is when my interest began to peak). When I read about the U.S. allocations in January of 2013 is when I first discovered the league and what they were trying to do. I had no idea which team I would end up rooting for or if I would even be into any team. I mean it obviously wasn’t going to be at the level of skill I was used to watching with the USWNT. After some other circumstances that occurred during that time though (which I may get into at another point), I decided to follow the Washington Spirit. I’ve been following them since.

With the 2015 season beginning a mere two weeks ago, it’s the perfect time to see what the league has to offer. It’s a fresh start. There’s been new off-season additions, trades, and draft prospects added to the rosters. New kits (uniforms for those who don’t speak soccer) have debuted for clubs (the Spirit’s are dope!). Currently the national team players are taking part in some games before they have to report for their respective pre-World Cup camps. At this time, it’s almost like a World Cup preview of players. If you’re wondering how you can watch the NWSL matches, you can check out almost all the games on Youtube (they’re streamed). If a game isn’t on Youtube, that’s probably because it’s being aired on television. Yes, some games air on TV. Tonight the Boston Breakers have their home opener vs. the Houston Dash at 5 p.m., and my beloved Washington Spirit visit Sky Blue FC at 6 p.m. If you’re reading this at another time, considering the Breakers-Dash match is about to start, check out the NWSL website for a list of the league schedule, teams, and other information. The interest for women’s soccer in the United States continues to grow. With the help of the NWSL, hopefully the growth will be lasting.