A hot start to 2012 during a cold January week in Vancouver should have been all the indication needed. Two goals in the opener. Two goals in the next game, two days later.
It was going to be that sort of year for Abby Wambach.
Back-to-back braces in Olympic qualifying games (albeit in preposterously uneven 14-0 and 13-0 wins over Dominican Republic and Guatemala, respectively) kicked off an age-defying wonder year for Wambach.
The 32-year-old closed out 2012 with 27 goals, her second-best calendar year (four behind a jaw-dropping 31 in 2004). She enters the new year with 152 international goals, just six behind Mia Hamm’s all-time record.
No doubt, much of this year’s success can be attributed to the rise of 23-year-old Alex Morgan, who notched 21 assists in 2012.
Simply put, Wambach and Morgan are the most dominant and dangerous forward combination in the world today. Their 55 combined goals in 2012 tied them for the U.S. record for combined goals in a calendar year, matching what Michelle Akers (39 goals) and Carin Jennings (16 goals) did in 1991.
Morgan’s emergence is not just paying dividends now – it is elongating Wambach’s career considerably as defenses turn attention to Morgan instead of figuring out how to bruise Wambach to make up for physical inferiority (Lady Andrade didn’t get the memo, though).
So yes, literally and figuratively give the assist on Wambach’s stellar year to Morgan. But there is no looking past Wambach’s second-most productive year coming at age 32, as young talent like Morgan and Sydney Leroux begin to usher in the next generation.
Wambach will always have her detractors – the ones who say that just being bigger, stronger and faster doesn’t always work. She’ll keep brushing off those remarks right to a first ballot hall of fame induction.
Among her more memorable moments of the year will be that 19th minute goal in the Olympic opener against France. Having gone down 2-0 inside 14 minutes, the entire tournament seemed to hang in the balance. Wambach’s header from a Megan Rapinoe corner kick began the turnaround that resulted in a 4-2 U.S. win.
The match served as a microcosm for this U.S. squad, which has turned cliché into reality as the Comeback Kids of women’s soccer. They did it in the Women’s World Cup quarterfinal against Brazil last year (you know, that 122nd minute Wambach equalizer) and they did it again in London this year.
Redemption was the theme — the single defining word — of the United States’ gold medal run in London. It played out with a Hollywood ending as they beat Japan in the final to avenge the 2011 World Cup loss.
But Wambach found gratification, too. A broken leg the day before the plane left for Beijing in 2008 meant that London was her first stance atop the podium in eight year, a bitterly long stretch for such a fierce competitor.
Don’t for a minute doubt Wambach’s role in that courageous, fighter attitude that embodies the U.S. women. It’s too early to tell what her role will be with this team in 2015 and 2016, but 2012 will go down as one of the best-ever years for one of the all-time best forwards.
Over the final few days of 2012, the staff at The Equalizer will countdown our 11 most memorable moments of 2012. Some were spectacular and some were disappointing, but one thing is common amongst all of them: they will be remembered for years to come.
No. 11: U.S. U-20 women win World Cup
No. 10: North Carolina wins its 21st NCAA title
No. 9: Lyon wins second-straight Champions League title
No. 8: Rapinoe comes out
No. 7: Pia Sundhage’s USWNT era ends
No. 6: WPS folds; W-League and WPSL Elite try to fill the gap
No. 5: The National Women’s Soccer League is born