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Former Gator Abby Wambach is a living legend

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If the World Cup in soccer is underway and few know about it, then it must be the women’s version. Too bad, because they play a solid, entertaining game.

They also provide the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), world soccer’s governing body, a respite from all of the recent scandals involving bribes and misconduct involving the men’s World Cup. No one was doling out millions to bring the women’s tournament to Canada this year.

For Americans merely wishing to wave the flag, the women’s team provides plenty of opportunities to do so. Perennial contenders, the ladies have given the nation a chance to celebrate with championships in 1991 and 1999 and other top four finishes.

While the American men now field competitive teams at the world level, the women have been there for nearly a quarter century. For a majority of that time, the American team has had one constant: Abby Wambach.

To be sure, the most well-known current American player is goalie Hope Solo.

Unfortunately, Solo is known just as much for off-the-field foibles as for her superior skills at keeping balls out of the back of the net. Let’s not forget her appearance on Dancing With the Stars. Wambach. on the other hand, has been a goal-scoring machine and superb teammate for more than a decade after graduating from the University of Florida in 2001. Since joining the U.S. National Team in 2001, she has played in 243 games and scored 182 goals, a ridiculous total unmatched by any player in the world, male or female.

If she can score a few goals during the U.S. team’s games in this year’s World Cup, she could leave Canada as the all-time leading goal scorer for that quadrennial event. Entering Monday’s game against Australia, Wambach had 13 World Cup goals, just behind Brazil’s Marta and Germany’s Birgit Prinz with 14. Marta is still active.

She did not score in the U.S. 3-1 victory over Australia, but the 35-year-old played all 90 minutes and made her presence known. Seeing her go up and down the field with some of these players slightly more than half her age is worth watching.

This is certainly her last World Cup and it is a safe bet she will empty the tank with each game. Her skill, matched with desire, has helped keep the U.S. continually playing at such a high level.

That combination also put the Gator women’s soccer team on the map upon her arrival in Gainesville in 1998. Make no mistake, Wambach could have played at any of the power programs such as North Carolina and Virginia, but she wanted to be part of the rise of a non-established program. Florida fit the bill. The program was only three years old, but they weren’t obscure for long. As a freshman, Wambach and the Gators won the national championship over North Carolina.

During her career at Florida, the Gators won the Southeastern Conference championship every year. Wambach scored a school-record 96 goals and in 2012 was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame. The only remaining question was “what took so long?”

The U.S. team is favored to win this year’s World Cup. Two games remain in the preliminary round; Friday against Sweden and Tuesday against Nigeria.

For those who only watch soccer during the men’s World Cup, tune in at some point and wave the flag for the women. We root for them all, but check out Abby Wambach.

It is not often a living legend, having earned the title legitimately, is still there for all to see.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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