After scoring two of the biggest goals for the United States in the 2011 Women's World Cup, Abby Wambach has become the face of the national team.
Wambach scored the game-saving goal in a quarterfinal against Brazil, then the winning goal in a semifinal against France. And she has done so in dramatic fashion with those now-famous headers.
But the former four-time All-American at Florida insists that the United States' success is a total team effort and dismisses any notion that it's all about her.
"I was put in positions to score goals, and I know that my teammates put me in those positions," Wambach said during a teleconference last week from Germany. "So I give them more thanks than maybe they even know. But at the end of the day, like I've always said, it's not about my head or Hope's (Solo) arm; it's about us collectively. …
"I think in general if you have the 'we' mentality instead of the 'me' mentality, you're more likely to win and win in ways which inspire people. And that's what this team is doing."
The United States plays Japan at the World Cup final today in Frankfurt, Germany, but the journey hasn't been easy.
Eight months ago, the Americans lost a qualifying match to Mexico and were in danger of missing the World Cup. And in this competition, the United States has had to scrap, battle and come from behind in dramatic fashion to advance.
"I think because we had such a bumpy road, we came out stronger," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "We've learned a lesson — we can't take anything for granted.
"It's not one player; it's the whole team that will make this dream come true, I hope. … I think this team, one of the great things is heart and spirit."
The U.S. women are 22-0-3 vs. Japan. The Americans have a distinct height advantage (the average Japanese player is 5 feet 4; 15 of the 21 U.S. players are 5-5 or taller with 11 of them 5-7 or taller), but Japan counters with quickness. The U.S. players expect a much tougher opponent than the one they played in May in a two-game exhibition series, the host Americans winning both 2-0.
"They are the sentimental favorites of this tournament, and it's pretty clear to most of us that we're not going to see the same Japan team that we saw in the last couple of (matches)," said Solo, the U.S. goalkeeper. "They are playing for something bigger and better than the game. And when you're playing with so much emotion and so much heart, that's hard to play against.
"They are already a brilliant team on the attack, they put numbers forward, they pass the ball around. They are starting to take more outside shots than they have in years past. So I think it's going to be an incredible final that people didn't expect to see."
At 31, Wambach is playing in her third World Cup, but it is her first time in the final. She has been dogged by injuries, including an Achilles' problem, but said none of that matters.
"I think if you're feeling pain going into this next game, being that it's the final, I think there's something wrong with you as a soccer player," Wambach said. "This is the pinnacle, this is the dream, this is the goal that we've all set. And collectively speaking, we have unfinished business. And like Hope said the other day, we want to have a storybook ending to this amazing journey.
"The road that we've taken hasn't been the road that many people thought we would take, but we're here, we're in the final, we have a chance — a very good chance — of being world champions. And it's going to take a solid performance to ensure that. … Getting to the final is only halfway part of our dream coming true, and we want to make sure that we're on that top podium."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.