USWNT Forward and Head Coach Come out Big for USA in 2013 FIFA Ballon d'Or
By Kim Tate
US Women's National Team forward Abby Wambach was named FIFA Women's World Player of the Year, while former WNT head coach Pia Sundhage was named World Coach of the Year, and forward Alex Morgan came out third in Women's World Player of the Year voting. Wambach's honor marks the third time that an American woman has been named World Player of the Year, following Mia Hamm's 2001 and 2002 selections.
Wambach and Sundhage received the awards today at the 2013 FIFA Ballon d'Or gala in Zurich, Switzerland, as FIFA held its annual event. Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Argentina was named the FIFA World Player of the Year for the fourth year in a row.
"I'm very, very surprised," Wambach said. "Individual honors only happen if you have great teams and great people who have given you the chance to be here. Not only do I think Marta and Alex could have won, but many other players could have been here as well. Thanks to FIFA, thanks to U.S. Soccer and thanks to all the fans and my family for putting me in this position. I don't think of myself as the best player in the world, just a player who plays on the best team in the world."
Wambach finished first in voting by coaches and captains of women's national teams from around the world. Each ballot allowed the coaches and captains to name their top three players, with a first-place nomination worth five points, and positions two and three rewarded with three points and one point, respectively.
Alex Morgan scored 28 goals and had 21 assists in one of the best scoring years in U.S. history. She took third place in the voting and five-time FIFA Women's World Player of the Year Marta of Brazil took second in this year's voting. Together, Wambach and Morgan accounted for 55 goals, tying a record for most goals scored by a duo in U.S. history that was set in 1991 by Michelle Akers (39) and Carin Jennings (16).
"The contributions Abby Wambach has made to U.S. Soccer and women's sports in general are far-reaching and significant," said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. "Her play on the field during her entire career and her leadership this year in helping capture the gold medal were both inspirational and consistently world-class. As a person and a player, she has represented her country and her teammates for more than a decade with tremendous professionalism. We are extremely happy for Abby and proud that a U.S. player has won such a prestigious award from FIFA for the third time."
Sundhage becomes the first coach of a U.S. team to win the award, which was instituted in 2008. She finished third in voting for World Coach of the Year in 2008, and second last year behind Japan head coach Norio Sasaki. Sasaki was the runner-up for this year's award and France's Bruno Bini was third.
Sundhage ended her five-year tenure with the U.S. team in September of 2012, guiding the team to two Olympic gold medals and a second-place finish at the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup with a 6-2 victory against Australia. She finished her career as head coach of the USA with an 88-6-10 record, including 20-1-1 this year before she left to take the job as the head coach of the Sweden Women's National Team in her home country.
"Pia's time as our head coach was one of the greatest in our program's history and she did a fantastic job with the team this year," said Gulati. "The work that she and her staff did in guiding the team to wins in all six games at the Olympics was tremendous, and she is certainly deserving of this award."
The Women's National Team will return to the field on Feb. 9 when they open their 2013 schedule against Scotland at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla. The match will kick off at 5 p.m. ET, and broadcast information will be released at a later date. It will be new head coach Tom Sermanni's first official match and will take place against the country of his birth.
Additional Notes Courtesy of US Soccer:
• Last year, Wambach was chosen as one of three finalists for the award along with Marta and Homare Sawa of Japan, who won the award. Wambach finished third in the voting in 2011, the first time she was in the final three for the award, although she finished fourth in the voting in 2004 and 2006, fifth in 2007, was one of the final 10 in 2009 and was fifth again in 2010.
• Wambach, who is on the cusp of catching Hamm on the world's all-time scoring list, currently has 152 career international goals with 27 of them coming in 2012.
• Her 27 goals in 2012 was the second-most prolific scoring year of her 12-year National Team career.
• Wambach scored a goal in the first five matches of the 2012 Olympics, a feat never before achieved, and was the only U.S. player to start all 32 games during the year.
• She currently has 198 career caps and could hit 200 in the USA's second match of 2013 against Scotland on Feb. 13 in Nashville, Tenn.
• Wambach tied for the team lead in scoring with six goals during the 2012 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament last January and also had five assists over the five games despite only playing 285 of the possible 450 minutes.
• She scored in 20 of the USA's 32 matches this year and had seven games in which she scored twice, including the final two games of the year (4-0 and 4-1 victories against China). The USA is 97-2-7 all-time in matches in which Wambach has scored a goal.
• As co-captain of the U.S. team, she helped lead the American women to a 28-1-3 overall record in 2012, with the only loss (avenged twice during 2012 including the Olympic gold medal game) coming to Japan in March at the Algarve Cup. Wambach wasn't on the field when Japan scored the game-winner in that 1-0 match.
• Wambach, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, has won five U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year Awards (2003, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2011).
Nice work Kim Tate, big Abby certainly deserves the award.