This Week: The Women of Soccer
With Abby Wambach
Special to the Washington Post
Tuesday, July 9, 2002; 2 p.m. EDT
Rookie Abby Wambach, superstar Mia Hamm and the rest of the Washington Freedom are part of a grand experiment to see if America is ready to embrace women's professional soccer on a wide scale. The cover story in Sunday's Washington Post Magazine offered a taste of what it's like to be a female athlete in a league---the two-year-old Women's United Soccer Association---that is struggling to prove itself.
Freedom forward Abby Wambach will be online Tuesday, July 9 at 2 p.m. EDT, to field questions and comments about the article, "The Women of Soccer."
Wambach, 22, was the Freedom's top draft pick last year. She grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and played soccer at the University of Florida.
Next Game: The Washington Freedom will be playing the Philadelphia Charge on Sunday, July 14 at 4 p.m. EDT at RFK Stadium.
A transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Abby Wambach: HELLO TO ALL! I appreciate the many questions that were sent in. More so, I would like to thank the fans for all the support. Us women professional soccer players play this game, not because of the paycheck(because it's not like the NFL), but because of the fans and for the love of the game. It's the support from the DC area (and out of state fans), that keeps us motivated, and ready to play every day. So, from the Washington Freedom Team, THANK YOU!
I'll try to answer as many questions as possible, and if I don't get to your question, I'm sorry! Better luck next time:)
Atlanta, Ga.: What caused the huge turn around this season for the Freedom?
Abby Wambach: Early on in the season it was difficult to get everyone on the same page. Mia was out, we had just started playing with the Chinese players, Steffi hadn't come yet. There were so many factors that went into us not playing as well. Since people have returned, and we have been able to grasp what exactly one another was doing out there, it's been easier to get results.
McLean, Va.: Do you think the addition of players like Jaqui Little, Anne Cook, and Meredith Beard has helped the chemistry of the team as much as the play on the field?
Abby Wambach: The addition of these three players has really helped us. To add to the list, we have Steffi Jones, Pu Wei, and Kathy Hoverman. These players not only work hard at practice, but off the field, their personalities are great. We love having them on our team.
Atlanta, Ga.: Being from an Irish Catholic Yankee family myself, I hear a lot of stereotypes. Does your family fit the stereotype? (loud, Happy, Tough and many more)
Abby Wambach: ABSOLUTELY. My family is great, and because of soccer I don't get to interact with them as much as I would like. But the stories that I've heard in the past few months, there is always a lot of laughter, usually loudness(unless there's no alcohol present).
Mt Airy, Md.: Do you think that WUSA will add more female coaches? And do you think having more female coaches would encourage current players to participate as coaches after their playing days are over?
Abby Wambach: Having two coaches "let go," in the WUSA this season, the probability is high. Marsha McDermit (sorry if i spelled it wrong Marsha), is currently the only coach in the WUSA. Being a bit of a feminist, I would love to see more women in coaching positions. I guess we'll just have to see.
Boise, Idaho: You are one of the leaders in the fouls committed stat category as well as one of the most fouled players in the league. Do you think that refs are calling fouls on you because of your size and the fact that you are a rookie? You certainly don't seem like a "dirty" player (to some fans it seems as though the more fouls that a player is called on also means that they are a "dirty" player). Also, do you think because of your size and the fact that you are a rookie, fouls do not get called against you? Is it frustrating for you when you feel that you have been fouled throughout a match yet the ref does not call a good number of those fouls?
Abby Wambach: My size is something that I have had to deal with since college. Referees, more times than not, haven't given me the benefit of the doubt. I have bigger than most of the women on the field. Yes, I do feel that I get fouled more than the referee's call. I have to use my size to my advantage, and sometimes, i will say, i do commit fouls. But, I'm not a dirty player, and I would never intentionally hurt someone. Playing hard, and being dirty are two separate things.
Waldorf, Md.: What advice can you give to an aspiring young female soccer star (age 2) about how to be successful in your sport?
What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing female soccer in the next few years?
Abby Wambach: One piece of advice I can give to an aspiring young female soccer star is to be themselves. Mia Hamm, and Julie Foudy, and all the other greats from the women's national team, and great role models. Be yourself, not anyone else. That's what I tried to do.
Mt Airy, Md.: Great article. Do you think the Washington media gives the Freedom adequate coverage? I would like to see MORE media attention to Freedom both on local TV and in The Post.
Abby Wambach: I think that media is given to people, or teams that deserve it. Being a women's team, and a new league we all have to understand that it's going to take time. Maybe time is something this league doesn't have, but great athletes don't become successful and famous over night, and neither do teams.
Annapolis, Md.: What can I do to help the Freedom survive? I am an avid fan. I am a 46-year-old female player/coach for a Bowie coed league and I assist coach my son, U-11 rec league. Will you be in my area (Annapolis, Maryland) for any promos?
Abby Wambach: Just keep telling people about us. We have a game on July 14th, and 4 pm. We're playing the Philly Charge. It's going to be a great game, and the more people know, the more you can help. thanks for the support
Falls Church, Va.: Abby, how did your time playing youth soccer (including ODP) in New York State West help prepare you for the world of professional and national level soccer?
Abby Wambach: Like i said earlier, great athletes aren't born successful. You have to work to achieve success. With soccer, and the many outlets a youth has to develop their skills, it' starts from the first time you strike a ball. ODP really helped me. Coaches were able to see me play at various tournaments, and region camps. I believe it's the very reason some players make it to the college level. The way to make it and play with the best, is to get seen by the best. I also played with boys when i was younger.
Washington D.C.: Do you plan on completing your college degree in the off-season? Whenever you do, will it be back at Florida or more locally?
Abby Wambach: I promised my mother, and myself, that I would get a college degree. Right now it's difficult, because I am going to graduate from Florida, it's just a matter of finding the time to do it. Don't worry mom, I will graduate!
Fairfax, Va.: Are you given the freedom to roam around the field during games wherever you want? I've seen you and Mia many times come all the way back into the defensive third, leaving only a midfielder or two up front to counterattack. Is that planned that way and why? I'd think your job, as well as Mia's, Bai Jie's, and Skylar's job is to score goals and not play that deep on defense. I find it strange to use strikers that far back on defense. Thanks.
Abby Wambach: Many times, as forwards, we are giving all the glory. Since we usually score the goals. Defending is a key component in playing the game of soccer. Especially at the forward positions. When we retreat into our defending third, it's because their outside backs have made a run forward. This league, their are so many people that can individually change the impact on a game, so if it takes going back to defend every once and a while, that's what we need to do. My coach from Florida would be proud of me.
Queenstown, Md.: How was the overall transition from Florida to D.C., not just from college to pro, but from college to the "real world?"
Abby Wambach: Transitioning from Florida was really great. I have the greatest life, I PLAY SOCCER FOR A LIVING! Now, being in the "real world," it is a little scary, now having to worry about normal problems. Money, Rent, all the little things that I never worried about, thanks to my parents.
Springfield, Va.: What was your reaction after reading Mr. Little's comments about you?
Abby Wambach: Funny you should ask. Skylar and Jaqui were a little upset with the way it was projected. It was one of our first games, and as a parent you always think your daughter is the best, right? Anyway, Skylar and Jacqui apologize before i read the article. So I was expecting this awful quote. Personally, I though it was great. He's an awesome guy, and a great supportive father. If it were my dad, I would have expected nothing less. Maybe, only not let anyone else hear the conversation on the phone. No worries, that's why we're professionals.
Alexandria, Va.: In the article in The Washington Post Magazine, it was said you wanted to go clubbing after a particular game. Where do you/others let off steam?
Abby Wambach: I am actually not the "clubbing," type. I like to go and have few drinks with friends. Most times we're to tired to do anything anyways.
Burke, Va.: Hi! At what age did you (or your parents/coaches) begin to think you had the talent to play competitive college and/or pro ball? Were you a natural from six years old, or did you grow into soccer over time? Thanks.
Abby Wambach: Being from a family of 7, with a strong athletic background, I've been athletic my whole life. When I got into ODP, around the age 11, I made it a goal of mine to get a scholarship to college. Doing whatever it took, I did it. There are stories of people who started playing in high school. It can be done. Whatever it is, if you want it bad enough, and work hard to get it, YOU CAN!
Manassas, Va.: Do you like being a role model for little kids?
Abby Wambach: I don't consider myself a role model. Oddly enough, people do look at my career, and are very supportive. Some girls in my home town ever buzzed their hair and dyed it blonde when I did. I guess I just see myself as an average person. I do the same things everyone else does. Just do what you love, and you'll be happy, and I'm sure a role model as well.
Arlington, Va.: You've said that you like to keep your personal life personal. Did you feel that Sunday's article was too personal? Are you concerned about overzealous fans at all? Are your teammates?
Abby Wambach: I do like my personal life, personal. However, I am a very open individual, and if people knowing a little bit about my personal life, will bring more people out and supporting our team, then so be it.
Washington, D.C.: I have been to all of the home games at RFK. Sorry to say it but the officials seem to be in a different country. What is your take on the officiating this season?
Abby Wambach: The officiating in this league has been different to what I've seen in the past. We have sophisticated enough women in the league that they know when to dive, foul, fake an injury. However, the officiating can be reviewed on game tapes. I think, maybe officials need to watch the game tapes of their past games, and see the truth. Whether it's the correct call our not. They need to do their job, so we can do ours!
New Jersey: Abby, what do you think 12-year-old girls should do for training because my team is moving up to division #4? P.S. Good luck in your next game! Win it for me!
Abby Wambach: One thing I wish I worked on more is my technical work. Working on individual ball work, it's boring, and sometimes dreadful, but it will pay off in the long run, I PROMISE!
Ellicott City, Md.: Hi Abby!
As a father of two daughters (3&9) and a SAC coach of my daughters U-9 team, I have seen first hand how much soccer is a great sport for girls, one which they seem to love and embrace, and which allows them to develop terrific teambuilding skills. A component of that has been attending some of your games! Very exciting, inspirational, and gripping (even on TV!)
Question: What do you see as the key factors which will determine whether the professional league catches on? It seems like such a "no brainer" to me: Loads of young girls/women becoming involved in the sport; the professional games being VERY exciting to watch both as entertainment and as a learning experience. WHY is it such an uphill battle?
Abby Wambach: It is such an uphill battle simply because we're women. We have been fortunate to have the support of many league sponsors, and people that have contributed money to the league. However, they are in this because they love it, and some investors because they see a future. This future is selling tickets. I'm not sure what this league needs to do. i just go out there and try to play the best I can. The rest is up to you all. Thanks for the support
Dayton, Va.: Abby, you and the Freedom have been having an incredible season. I enjoy coming to RFK to catch every game I can. For you, what has been the most difficult aspect of life as a professional athlete? The most rewarding?
Abby Wambach: The most difficult part of being a professional athlete is not pinching myself every second of every day. This lifestyle is something that I've only dreamed about. I wouldn't trade in this job for anything. Even though the pay isn't like the NFL, or NBA, it seems that it makes it more about the game, and for the love of the game for me. I do what I love, and that's the most rewarding part.
Fairfax, Va.: Did you, like many other WUSA and National Team Players, play youth soccer on boys club teams rather than girls? If so, do you also believe that it helped you build aggressiveness as well as skills by having to compete against bigger or stronger opponents?
Abby Wambach: Playing with the boys is by far the best thing I could have done when I was younger. Although, now a day, the youth girls programs have developed so fast that these teams I'm sure are great. You can not replace playing along side someone stronger, faster, and in some cases better than you. I believe you get better only when you play about your level. Challenge your kids, only if they want, and are up for the challenge!!
Frederick, Md.: Abby: Do you own a pair of brass knuckles? (Just kidding) I thought that the Freedom and the Beat were ready to go a few rounds in their last game! Do you see yourself as an "enforcer" on the field?
Abby Wambach: Not an enforcer, although, someone back in Florida called me the Beast. I just try to use my body the best way I know how. Sometimes that means i have to run over a few people, so be it, right?!
Abby Wambach: Thank you all for all the questions, sorry about the ones I couldn't get too. I'm sure I spelled a lot of things wrong, and my grammar probably wasn't the best, but I wanted to get detailed answers, and as many as could get answered.
Come and support the Washington Freedom, our next home game is on July 14th, at RFK, kickoff is at 4pm. I know our true fans will be there. If you've never seen a game, they're fun, and I'll try to score a goal, or maybe run into someone for you all. That's always fun to watch, hugh? Alright...hope everyone had a fun, and safe Fourth of July, and we'll see you on the 14th!! Thanks Again,
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