- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2006

SEOUL — When Mia Hamm retired in 2004 after scoring 158 international goals in 275 games — more than 50 goals ahead of any other player — it appeared her world record would stay intact for decades.

Not so fast.

Abby Wambach, a former teammate of Hamm’s with the old Washington Freedom, has a good chance of writing her name in the history books, too. She may have a long way to go to reach Hamm’s lofty record, but Wambach already has 64 career goals in just 80 international games, the best strike-rate in U.S. history. It puts her sixth on the all-time U.S. list at the age of 26.

Hamm had notched about 80 goals by the time she was 26, but Wambach’s strike rate a game is ahead of Hamm’s. If Wambach can play another six years like Hamm, she has a chance of reaching the record.

“She’s ahead of Mia now in terms of goals per games,” U.S. coach Greg Ryan said. “I think she will catch her.”

Coming into the eight-team Peace Queen Cup in Korea, Wambach was averaging a goal every 89 minutes, while Hamm’s strike-rate was a goal every 130 minutes.

The former University of Florida star has a chance to add to her impressive tally when the Americans take on Australia in the second game of Group B in the Peace Queen Cup at Cheonan today.

It won’t be easy.

“We’ve had a hard time with Australia recently because they defend with eight players behind the ball, and we’ve had a tough time getting goals against them,” Ryan said.

The last two meetings between the teams ended in a 1-1 tie in 2004 and a scoreless game last year.

The U.S. team needs a victory over the 15th-ranked Matildas — 1-0 winners over the Netherlands — to have any chance of reaching the Cup final on Saturday after earning a 1-1 tie with Denmark in its opening game.

So far this year Wambach has scored 16 goals in 17 games, earning a nomination for the world player of the year award to be announced in December.

In 2004, the Rochester, N.Y., native scored a stunning 31 goals in 33 games, a tally Hamm came nowhere near to scoring in an international season.

But Wambach says she ignores the stats.

“I know it sounds kind of team-like and unselfish, but it’s the truth,” Wambach said. “I think my parents are the only ones who really keep me up to date on how many goals per game I have.”

It might not be a coincidence that Wambach, probably the only player capable of catching Hamm, was her teammate with the Freedom.

“I remember her saying — it was almost a challenge at the time, and I didn’t have close to 30 goals — that I would have to play another 15 years [to catch her record] because she played almost 20 years,” Wambach said. “Mia got a six or seven-year head start on me, so catching her is pretty slim.”

Wambach spent two seasons with the Freedom, scoring 23 goals, and helped the team win the title in 2003 before WUSA folded.

“I loved everything about playing for the Washington Freedom,” Wambach said. “The WUSA shaped my career. I just hope the league can start up again in 2008.”

And playing alongside Hamm was a bonus.

“The chemistry with her on the field was the ultimate thing that got me on the national team and the 2003 World Cup,” said Wambach, who went on to win a gold medal with the team at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Unlike Hamm, who also had 144 assists in her career, the 5-foot-11 Wambach is a big intimidating target player whose key role on the field is to put the ball in the net.

“Comparing me to Mia is like apples and oranges,” Wambach said. “Both taste good but you just can’t do it even though everyone tries. Am I the next Mia Hamm? No way. I’m Abby Wambach.”

Peace Queen Cup roundup — In yesterday’s games in Masan, South Korea, Canada took the lead in Group B, beating South Korea 3-1, while Brazil could manage only a 1-1 tie with Italy. Tomorrow’s game between Canada and Brazil will decide who plays Saturday for the $200,000 prize. Canada needs only a tie to advance.

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