Abby Wambach takes a punch, swings back with goal in 3-0 U.S. win over Colombia
By Barry Svrluga,
GLASGOW, Scotland — It is nothing for Abby Wambach to feel an elbow in her ribs or a forearm in her back. It’s life in the middle of the U.S. women’s soccer team’s attack, a spot she has occupied for the better part of a decade. A bruise or a bump is well worth it if the desired outcome results.
Saturday evening, though, as the American women headed to the locker room at halftime of their Olympic match against Colombia, Wambach’s scars were worse.
“I got sucker-punched,” Wambach said. “It’s clear.”
There were a few things about which to be mildly upset after the Americans’ 3-0 victory over Colombia at Hampden Park. American Coach Pia Sundhage wasn’t terribly happy with her team’s pace of play, and the game had a feel that more than one player described as “choppy.”
“It wasn’t the prettiest game,” American goalkeeper Hope Solo said.
The result — provided by a first-half goal from Megan Rapinoe and quick second-half tallies from Wambach and Carli Lloyd — clinched a spot in the quarterfinals for the U.S. even before its final first-round match Tuesday in Manchester against North Korea, where the women will play at famed Old Trafford, home of Manchester United. After allowing two quick goals to France in their Olympics opening match, the Americans have reeled off seven straight.
All that, though, was secondary in the moments after the game, when Wambach emerged from the locker room with a blackened right eye. The incident occurred in the first half, with Wambach in the middle and the ball being played down the left side. Colombian defender Lady Andrade, tasked with marking and harassing Wambach, did both those things, and more.
“She got full-on punched,” said Solo, who said the U.S. team watched film of the incident afterward. “We hope [Andrade] doesn’t get back on the field because it was nasty. She wasn’t even looking. It wasn’t even a physical play at the time.”
Wambach lay on the field for a spell, writhing in pain. But she stayed in as the Americans protected the 1-0 lead Rapinoe provided with a strike from outside the penalty area. Rapinoe, who played exceptionally well, then paid tribute to Ali Krieger, the Dumfries native who would be a member of the national team had she not torn knee ligaments earlier this year. Rapinoe pulled out a sign from her sock that read, “Happy Birthday Kriegs,” in honor of her teammate’s 28th birthday Saturday.
“A shout-out,” Rapinoe said.
Which is what Wambach had to avoid as Andrade stayed on her.
“You think about yourself and what you would do on the street if you got sucker-punched,” Wambach said.
She did not, in fact, do anything other than continue to play, even as Andrade, Wambach said, continued to try to slice open her skin and slide right under it in the second half.
“She in fact tried to punch me again in the second half, in the face,” Wambach said. “She didn’t connect. She got me in the neck. So it just was a clear tactic for them to try to get me.”
For her part, Andrade denied all of it.
“Nothing happened,” she said through an interpreter. “It was just a normal part of the game. We were both running. She ran across me and we collided. I had my hands in the air. It was an accident.”
Told the Americans believe she should be expelled from the tournament, Andrade said: “I think they should be, too, but because they’re the United States, the whistle always goes in their favor. They were hitting us and hitting us, but there was never a whistle.”
Any discipline against Andrade would have to wait, so Wambach’s revenge came in the best way possible. In the 74th minute, she took a pass from midfielder Tobin Heath and, with two defenders draped on her and goalie Sandra Sepulveda charging, slid to get her foot on the ball. That was enough to get it past Sepulveda and into the back of the net for a two-goal lead. The street fight could wait.
“I think it’s something that she’s actually gotten better at dealing with,” Rapinoe said. “I think sometimes she can see red and kind of take her out of her game a little bit, but I think the last couple years I think she’s done really well dealing with that.”
The goal was the sixth of Wambach’s Olympic career — one more than the old U.S. mark she shared with Mia Hamm and Tiffeny Milbrett. This, despite the fact Wambach missed the Beijing Olympics because of a leg injury. Her reaction?
“Got us three points,” she said.
That it did, and kept the Americans perfect in the tournament.
“Abby’s a team player, and she’s a game-winner,” Sundhage said. “That’s unique.”
And she is rugged enough to endure whatever might happen in the course of winning those games, however unexpected it might be.
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