What once looked unbreakable now looks inevitable, especially after Abby Wambach put home the final goal in the U.S.’s win over Iceland. Sealing her team’s 3-0 victory to open this year’s Algarve Cup, Wambach moved within four of Mia Hamm’s all-time goal scoring mark, recording the 154th goal of her career.
But Wambach’s achievement wasn’t the day’s only noteworthy milestone. In truth, it wasn’t a milestone at all, though it did overshadow Rachel Buehler’s 100th career cap. The 27-year-old central defender wore the captain’s armband in honor of the occasion and scored the team’s opening goal.
When somebody’s chasing a record as prodigious as Hamm’s, you would expect it to take center stage. When Hamm retired nine years ago, the mark looked out of reach – like Hank Aaron’s home run record or Bob Beamon’s jump in Mexico City. But Wambach’s pursuit has reminded us of our naivete. Of course, no sports record is out of reach. After all, somebody’s been done before.
There is still a strange air about this chase. Perhaps it’s because of Hamm’s transcendant stature, something few soccer stars could hope to achieve. Maybe it’s because the mark’s being threatened while the team’s half-way across the world in a competition that’s barely being televised in the States. Or perhaps it’s how the pursuit’s being packaged, with hashtag promotion and social media taking the place of more traditional dialog. That might change as Wambach moves closer to the mark.
Even these early stages of the chase’s coverage are enough to overshadow Buehler’s milestone, as well as the team’s performance.
Though it was a relatively easy victory, the States went into halftime scoreless. That quickly changed, with Buehler’s 48th minute goal putting the U.S. in front. Shannon Boxx followed in the 62nd minute before Wambach finished the scoring. Slow start or not, the final was as expected.
The U.S. outshot Iceland 18-to-4 and only allowed one shot to reach Jill Loyden’s hands. They tested Iceland keeper Thora Helgadottir eight times.
Beyond career achievements, the more important information to glean from the tournament will center on Tom Sermanni uses his squad. Against Iceland, the U.S. head coach offered very few surprises with his starters and almost no substitutions.
Loyden got the call in goal, furthering the assumption she’s replaced Nicole Barnhart as Hope Solo’s number two. North Carolina’s Crystal Dunn get the start at right back over first choice Ali Krieger, though the rest of the defense was as expected: Buehler, Christie Rampone, and Kelley O’Hara. Boxx and Carli Lloyd started in the middle, with Lauren Cheney and Heather O’Reilly wide, while Wambach and Morgan got the call up top.
Only one substitute was used, with Christen Press coming on in the 64th minute for Carli Lloyd.
Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe, regular starters, were held out, presumably related to their late arrivals in camp. Both players (along with 18-year-old Lindsey Horan) were delayed getting to Portugal, with their French clubs meeting Saturday in Paris. Rapinoe’s Lyon side beat Heath and Horan’s Paris Saint-Germain, 3-0.
The U.S.’s next match will be Friday against China, the world’s 17th ranked team. On Monday, the team gets a highly anticipated meeting with former head coach Pia Sundhage’s Sweden, and if all goes as expected, the U.S. would meet world No. 2 Germany in the tournament final.
But with two matches to go in group play (and Germany in a difficult group), expectations may be premature. But if the world’s top two get derailed en route to next Wednesday’s match, the U.S. and Germany will still meet Apr. 5 in Dusseldorf. One way or another, the U.S. will soon get the first major test of the Tom Sermanni era.