When WPS launched in 2009 there was little doubt Abby Wambach was the most famous face on the U.S. national team. She touted the league and made it clear the players were as responsible as anyone else for its survival.
Four years later that league is gone and Wambach – still popular, if not the most recognizable player on the team – is not backing away from that responsibility.
“I have a conscious feeling (of) responsibility for the failures of the last couple of leagues,” Wambach said Monday during an introductory conference call with the Western New York Flash. “(With WPS), I put the responsibility on my shoulders because I was one of the more visible players on the national team. So I took at it as a responsibility and a failure on my part that the previous leagues didn’t succeed.”
That was only one of the reasons Wambach ultimately decided to go home to Rochester to play for the Flash in the shadows of where she grew up in Pittsford, N.Y. as the youngest of seven children. Sure she just bought a house in Portland and the remodeling would have been done just in time for the NWSL season, but more important things lie ahead in Rochester.
“For me coming back to Rochester to play and to be living in Buffalo playing for the Western New York Flash is a dream come true,” she said. “(It) may not have been geographically my No. 1 choice, but it was the right choice for me and the league.”
It was two summers ago when Wambach helped turn Rochester on its ear after she scored a dramatic goal to help the U.S. beat Brazil in the World Cup quarterfinals. The U.S. ultimately lost the final on penalties to Japan but the team returned riding a wave of popularity that was never more evident than the night Wambach helped fill Sahlen’s Stadium as a member of visiting magicJack. Wambach’s team did not reach the final, but Sahlen’s Stadium was filled again. Wambach was there signing autographs, the line for which included more people than attended some WPS matches.
“It brings a little bit more excitement when I only come home very infrequently,” she acknowledged. Then she added, “I think that you sell overall more tickets throughout the season than you do for two games. I think this team gets more popular with me in the city.”
Another reason for wanting to play in Rochester, where Wambach admittedly will not relish the cold weather certain to greet her early in the season, was the opportunity to play in front of family and friends on a regular basis.
“I’ve had the opportunity to play all over the world and never do I play my best except when my family is there,” she said. “Being that my whole family will be in Rochester watching probably every single game I know that I’ll be playing at my best doing what I can to help the Western New York Flash win games and ultimately of course a championship.”
The 32-year-old, who was recently named FIFA World Player of the Year, added that playing and training in Western New York will give her a chance to see her nieces and nephews grow up.
Asked to speak on why she thinks NWSL will work where WUSA and WPS did not, a candid Wambach said, “I think that the quickest answer to that question is money.”
This time around the U.S. and two neighboring federations are ready to pony up to offset player costs and while all the players will be paid some will need to work on the side to make ends meet.
“Where I think we went wrong in the past is that we started off too big and our salaries were too big,” Wambach said. “Now do I think that women’s soccer players deserve monetarily to be compensated the way that we were? Absolutely. But it didn’t work. So you have to learn from your mistakes and make sure that you don’t make the same ones twice, and then of course a third time.
“Some of the players are unfortunately going to have to have other jobs which in my opinion is not the long-term vision of where we want to go. We want this to be a fully professional league. The model that is on the table right now is in our opinion probably the best model in order to move forward.”
And Abby Wambach will be moving forward in Rochester.