NEW ORLEANS – Call it a success.
The U.S. National Team Victory Tour appearance in New Orleans was well attended and well received.
In all, 32,950 patrons were on hand to enjoy the exhibition, a record for a U.S. National Team appearance in New Orleans.
The focus was on Abby Wambach, who called it a day after a brilliant career at the age of 35. How fitting that we will always remember that her last game was in New Orleans.
The U.S. National Team lost its first game on its final contest of a 10-game nationwide victory tour, falling 1-0 to China at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Wednesday night.
Team USA had not lost at home since a 2004 match with Denmark. The team picked a bad time to lose at home for the first time in 104 matches.
Wambach had a shot to score on a header in the 20th minute off of a corner kick. She exited in the 72nd minute, handing the captain’s band to Carli Lloyd, took off the arm band and got hugs.
Wang Shu scored the only goal in the 58th minute for the only score of the game.
Wambach ended her brilliant career with 184 international goals, the most by any male or female player. Her stamp on the game is indelible. She is trending on Twitter thanks to many congratulations from some of the most famous people in the country, from athletics to politics.
Her career was totally encompassing. She was a two-time Olympic gold medalist. She was part of wining the 2015 World Cup. She scored 14 World Cup goals, tied for second all-time in the event’s history. She was the 2012 FIFA Women’s Player of the Year. You can certainly make the argument that Wambach is the greatest player in the history of the women’s game, an immovable force in the box for opponents.
The question is asked perpetually, every time there is a significant soccer event in the country. Will this exposure and event move the needle forward for soccer in the United States?
The women’s game is already elite. The United States plays the best women’s soccer in the world. The reason is simple. Many of the top female athletes in the country gravitate to the sport. There is tremendous participation at the youth level and the coaching is obviously good.
The same is not true of many of the top male athletes in the country, who choose football, basketball, baseball and hockey most frequently.
Having a son who chose to play soccer throughout his youth at the club level and in high school, I became a reluctant but willing observer. In the process, I grew to appreciate the nuances of the game, which at times was not particularly attractive to me and at other times, truly embodied the moniker “the beautiful game.”
I have watched World Cups, have come to understand what a “friendly” is, and have learned to distinguish between the Premier and Champions Leagues. Bayern Munich is not named after aspirin and I have accepted the terminology of “FC” and “United.”
Soccer is an excellent sport, comprised of superbly conditioned athletes who possess unique skill sets. While I have always loved baseball and have a tremendous affinity for football and basketball and have called many games in all three sports, I now have an appreciation for the sport the rest of the world knows as football.
Incidentally, soccer truly is football, a game dominated by the action of the feet of its players. American football features the use of the foot as an adendum to the brute force of blocking and tackling and the excitement of aerial assaults by skilled quarterbacks and receivers. The name of the sport is a definitive misnomer.
Wambach will be missed but her legacy will live on, just as the legacy of Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, Kristine Lilly, Tiffeny Milbrett, Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo. and Brandi Chastain. Upon exiting stage left, Wambach suggested heading to Bourbon Street, an appropriate destination for a storied player whose career deserves a worthy celebration in a city known for such exploits on a daily basis. Wednesday night was truly a celebration of a sport and a career in the Superdome.