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Abby Wambach talks World Cup, artificial turf and her soccer future

Abby Wambach, far right, and members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team at the ESPYs on July 15. (Chris Pizzello/Invision via AP)

U.S. national team forward Abby Wambach, the sport’s career scoring leader, was available for a brief phone interview today.

Her thoughts on a few topics …

It’s been a crazy few weeks since the World Cup ended. How would you describe it?

“Crazy is definitely the word I would use. Whirlwind would be an understatement. I’ve been able to do things I never thought possible, meet people I never thought possible. Being a World Cup champion is definitely different than being an Olympic champion. I’ve had a lot of fun. Not a lot of down time. I’m going on vacation Friday.”

How’s it been different as a World Cup champion than an Olympic champion?

“The World Cup is uniquely our own. We share the spotlight at the Olympics with all of these other great athletes. The World Cup is longer and focused on the soccer. A lot of people might think that me not starting in the last few games was something that offended me, but I am a realist. The coaches had to make the decisions. I knew what my role was. The team played brilliantly when it needed to play brilliantly, and at the end of the day, that is what won us the World Cup.”

Describe your continuing efforts for soccer to be played on grass, not artificial turf.

“Obviously, I tried to put up a fight before the World Cup to get FIFA to be played on artificial turf for a lot of reasons. The natural surface is the one you learned to play on. The better you are going to play, the better your team is going to play. I partnered with a trade organization that has a like-minded approach about how athletes, kids, adults playing on natural turf is by far the better option than playing on artificial surface. I didn’t want to talk about turf that much during the World Cup, but I do know there were mistakes made because it was on an artificial surface. I am very passionate about it. I want the next generation of athletes to have long careers like I was able to have and, if games are played more often on artificial surfaces like in the latter part of my career, there are going to be shorter careers for players like Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux. Their careers are going to be shorter by far because of the injury risk they take stepping on an artificial field.”

In the aftermath of the World Cup on artificial turf, do you sense a greater awareness of the issue?

“I do sense that. I got a verbal commitment from the number two guy at FIFA when we sat down in Zurich last winter that they would never play another World Cup on artificial surface. I want to ensure his word will last. That is why I want to keep the discussion going. I am obviously a big proponent of natural grass, primarily because I know I am less of a player when I play on artificial surface. I don’t play as courageously. I don’t dive for balls and slide as much. Grass stains are a lot easier to get out than scars.”

So what was your reaction to the U.S. Soccer Federation naming artificial-turf venues in Detroit and Birmingham as part of the World Cup victory tour?

“Here’s the thing: There are all these decisions being made that are out of my control. The victory tour is going to be a celebration of the World Cup, and we are going to reach as many places as we possibly can to celebrate this championship. That is why I am talking about it. People have to know, especially the people making the decisions, that this is an unacceptable way to play the game. There are so many stadiums across the country and across the world that have artificial surfaces. I think it’s a travesty because the game suffers, the fans suffer and the athletes suffer.”

What’s next for you?

“I haven’t made a decision about the Olympics next summer and I would have to make the 18-player roster, first and foremost. It’s not a foregone conclusion I would be chosen. I will be 36 years old and there are a lot of things that have to happen between now and then before I come close to making that decision. I am planning to play at this point, but I haven’t decided and the coaching staff hasn’t made that final decision yet.”

It’s safe to assume you will not play in the final stretch of this NWSL season?

“I am not going to play this season, that’s accurate.” [The Seattle Reign holds her league rights. She skipped the start of the season, as well.]

Having been inactive since the World Cup ended, will you be ready to play on the victory tour starting in three weeks?

“I will be participating. If called upon to play, I will play. It’s a celebration of the World Cup, so I hope and expect all players from the roster to be there. Quite frankly, I still haven’t recovered from the World Cup and playing on artificial turf. I don’t know how some of these girls are doing it, especially the ones that are doing as many appearances as I have been doing. That’s why this vacation is a welcome one.”

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