The skill of Abby Wambach

Abby Wambach has an indomitable will. She has the ability to raise her game when the stakes are higher. She works hard and inspires others to do the same.

But let’s remember one thing: She’s also a danged good soccer player.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s too easy to forget. Too easy to think of her accomplishments as a simple function of a single-minded willingness to stick her head wherever it must be to meet the ball. Just as Brian McBride was called “McHead” — sometimes affectionately, sometimes not — in deference to his ability to score goals with his noggin and take a few facial reconstructions to do so, Wambach’s general soccer skill is overlooked as people marvel over the intangibles that sportswriters and ad agencies build into mythology.

Wambach, first of all, is perfectly capable of scoring magnificent goals without her head. Heading (sorry) into 2013, she had only used her head for 66 of her 152 goals.

Look at this:

Now consider this: This year, Wambach passed (geez, another horrible accidental pun) Tiffeny Milbrett for third place on the all-time assist list. (She’s roughly 40 behind Kristine Lilly and 80 behind Mia Hamm, so let’s not restart the #ChasingMia hashtag just yet.)

Some of those were surely with her head. To repeat myself: I’m not sure TV does justice to her ability to flick the ball into the path of an onrushing teammate with her head.

So let’s finish up by talking about her aerial ability. First of all, it’s not always that high in the air. Sure, she can outjump people to score. But she’s just as likely to score on a diving header, which requires an uncanny sense of timing.

And when she makes that dive, look at what she can do.

Even if that was Wambach’s FIRST goal, not her 158th, you’d have to say she’s a skilled player.

So as U.S. Soccer (women’s and men’s) tries to change its approach to develop more skillful players, not just athletes, Abby Wambach is and will continue to be someone to emulate.

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