- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2003

SAN DIEGO — The game-ending embrace signaled Abby Wambach’s arrival as the next great U.S. goal scorer.

Seconds after Wambach scored the golden goal in the 96th minute Sunday to lift the Washington Freedom to a 2-1 victory over the Atlanta Beat in Founders Cup III, Mia Hamm, the world’s all-time leading goal scorer, was the first player to jump into Wambach’s arms as they tumbled to the ground in a joyous celebration for winning the WUSA title in sudden-death overtime.

Wambach scored both Freedom goals and added the last installment to Hamm’s incredible soccer resume. Until then, the only thing missing was a WUSA championship. Thanks to Wambach, Hamm’s career is now complete: NCAA championship, Olympic gold medal, two World Cups, and now a Founders Cup.

The 5-foot-10 Wambach, who was named Founders Cup III MVP, represents a changing of the guard within U.S. Soccer. Wambach is the first of the next soccer generation to emerge as a bona fide star.

Today at noon, U.S. Women’s national team coach April Heinrichs will announce her final 20-player roster for next month’s Women’s World Cup. There is no guarantee that Heinrichs will include the 23-year-old Wambach. But if Heinrichs doesn’t, she might have some explaining to do.

“Was [Heinrichs] there?” Wambach joked after Sunday’s game. “This [Founders Cup] is for my teammates. This is for my family and my teammates, everybody that knows me, everybody that knows me personally, and April is part of that. She is my national team coach. If I think to myself before the game, ‘Oh, I’ve got to perform to get on the World Cup roster,’ I’m not going to play well.”

The reason Wambach, who finished second to Boston’s Maren Meinert in the voting for league MVP this season, is no lock for the World Cup team is that Heinrichs seems to be holding out hope that forwards Shannon MacMillan and Heather O’Reilly can come back from injury.

MacMillan tore her ACL in May but has shown tremendous progress in her rehabilitation. O’Reilly broke her ankle and, like MacMillan, is rapidly improving and could be ready for the U.S. team’s World Cup opener Sept.21 against Sweden at RFK Stadium.

Hamm, Tiffeny Milbrett, and Cindy Parlow are locks at forward. If Heinrichs decides to keep just four forwards, Wambach could be left out if Heinrichs thinks MacMillan is a better option, ACL and all. If the coach decides to go with five forwards, Wambach would seem a logical choice.

Asked if Wambach will be a part of the World Cup team, Atlanta Beat and U.S. goalie Briana Scurry replied, “Maybe. I hope for sure. I could see it in here before the first whistle that she was ready to go after [the Founders Cup], wanting to win. You could tell.”

On April 26, Heinrichs dropped Wambach from her final 20-player roster for a friendly against Canada in a doubleheader with the Freedom at RFK. Upset over her demotion, Wambach proceeded to have the worst game of her career in the nightcap against the Beat.

Fortunately for the Freedom, Wambach snapped out of it and finished the season by scoring 13 goals, second best in the league.

“Any time that you can look back on your life and see that you’ve had to make so many sacrifices and to persevere through certain circumstances where you may not have thought that you were going to get through it, and to be able to look to your right and your left and see your teammates by your side, having supported you the whole way, through your ups and downs, through your successes and failures, and be able to lift the trophy at the end of the day means more to me than words can explain,” Wambach said.

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