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Wambach, Gulati reflect on National Soccer Hall of Fame selections

Photo Copyright Hannah di Lorenzo for The Equalizer

HARRISON, New Jersey – Abby Wambach looked around at the near-sellout crowd at Red Bull Arena on Sunday and saw over 26,000 fans cheering on the United States women’s national team. She turned to Sunil Gulati, the longtime president of U.S. Soccer, and said, “Look what you’ve built.”

Gulati corrected her. “Look what we built,” he said.

Wambach, the world’s leading international goal-scorer with 184 tallies for the U.S. from 2001 to 2015, and Gulati, the federation’s president from 2006 to early 2018, were elected as this year’s class for the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Wambach was the only player with enough votes (66.7 percent) to earn selection, while Gulati was elected in the “Builder” category.

“I was joking with my family this morning that it means I’m officially a has-been, and immortalized in, I guess, soccer lore,” Wambach said in a halftime interview.

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Wambach’s daughters, 11 and 13, are huge fans of the U.S. team. They were there on Sunday, one sporting a Tobin Heath jersey and the other an Alex Morgan jersey.

“I am now insignificant in my own home, which is quite humbling. This award is actually quite cool because it allows me to feel a little bit important once again,” Wambach quipped.

Wambach won the 2015 World Cup with the U.S., and she is a two-time Olympic champion. She was named world player of the year in 2012. She defined a

“It’s been the honor of my life to be able to represent this country for so many years on the team as a career,” she said. “And now it’s become the honor of my future and the rest of my life to become its biggest fan.”

Gulati decided not to run for re-election as president, paving the way for former VP Carlos Cordeiro to win the early 2018 election and become president of U.S. Soccer. Gulati oversaw the federation for a transformative decade-plus for all of soccer in the U.S. – and particularly for the U.S. women. In addition to his many accomplishments for the national team program, Gulati was a driving force in the creation of the National Women’s Soccer League.

Today, Gulati says he is doing a lot of “less visible” work in soccer, with FIFA and planning for the 2026 joint World Cup. He, too, joked about how life has changed.

“I don’t miss having my name on the front of litigation,” he said.

The Hall of Fame voting results brought some mild but predictable controversy. Only Wambach – on her first ballot – met the threshold for eligible players, and even she only received 81 percent of the votes. Ex-U.S. men’s national team defender Carlos Bocanegra just missed; Steve Cherundolo and Kate Markgraf also missed out.

“On the player side, I think you’ll see more people get in in the next few years, and maybe the voting procedure needs to be tweaked a little bit,” Gulati said. “On some of the others [categories], there’s limits on how many we take in a given year, but I’m surprised that – and the problem with more players not getting in is, in the following years when you’ve got Landon [Donovan] and Clint [Dempsey] and whoever on the women’s side, that makes it harder, and you end up waiting a long time. And then out of sight, out of mind for a while.”

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