Abby Wambach used to call the D.C. area home.
As a former member of the Washington Freedom of the now-defunct WUSA and WPS, the U.S. women’s national team icon plied her trade while representing the nation’s capital. On Saturday, Wambach will be one seriously marked opponent.
Wambach, who has 155 career international goals and is three shy of Mia Hamm’s all-time international record, will lead the Western New York Flash into the Maryland SoccerPlex to take on the Washington Spirit in the home opener of the Spirit’s venture into the National Women’s Soccer League.
The NWSL, a new eight-team league, has given women’s soccer players new life on the club level after the WPS folded last May.
With a distribution of players from the U.S., Canadian and Mexican national teams and financial backing from the three federations, the hope is that the new league will serve as a steady foundation for women’s club soccer going forward.
The D.C. area, which has been a constant across the women’s soccer scene, will have the Spirit officially introduced to area women’s soccer fans after opening the 22-game season with a 1-1 draw at the Boston Breakers last weekend.
“To have this home game and to have Abby come back after she played here for a number of years adds to the excitement of just getting the team back into the D.C. area,” Spirit captain and U.S. national team midfielder Lori Lindsey said.
The Flash struggled in their opener against Sky Blue FC, falling 1-0, but the Spirit defenders are expecting a challenge, especially facing Wambach.
“She’s a great player,” Spirit coach Mike Jorden said. “We’ve got to try and press a little higher, and the big thing with her, too, is keeping her off the ends of crosses and set pieces. She’s a presence in the box, so we’ve got to play very physical this weekend.”
By midweek, tickets for the home opener were still available for about half of SoccerPlex’s maximum capacity, according to Spirit general manager Chris Hummer.