“There are two different ways you can consume sport. You can be hypercritical, or you can be hyper-hopeful, and I happen to lean into the hopeful side of things. I have no advice, I just want the players to know that we believe in them.”
Those were the words of Abby Wambach for the U.S. Women’s National Team after a shaky group stage in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The 2015 FIFA World Cup Champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist certainly knows a thing or two about these big moments.
“All of the talk around the criticism, opinions, and expectation that has been put on the team, let me be clear here, and I know this for certain, these players are putting more pressure and have higher expectations than anybody else,” Wambach told AllForXI. “I don’t care how many people in the world there are with their expectations and criticisms, these players have the highest expectations of themselves.”
As Wambach sees it, this group has earned the right to represent the United States at the 2023 Women’s World Cup, and they deserve her hope, not her criticism.
“The commentators can have their opinions, but can we just be smart about this,” she explained. “They’re going to say these are their opinions, through and through, but, they are getting paid to say things, and a sure way to continue to get paid to say things is to say the things that gets the most likes, clicks, and engagement. Don’t fall into the media trap of criticism over hope. Hope is the way.”
Day 22— Daily Goals (@Daily_Goals_) January 22, 2018
Abby Wambach's game tying header in the 122nd minute vs Brazil. The US went on to win on penalties. pic.twitter.com/fakKa957yZ
The 2023 World Cup marks Wambach’s second as a spectator post-retirement, and although she is no longer on the field, she is just as passionate about cheering on this USWNT.
“Watching it from my house with my family, I get so fired up,” she said. “I am so superstitious, like everybody has to sit in the same seat!”
While she watches as a former player, she is just as certain that this group possessed the same generational qualities and has earned the same respect as the teams that have come before.
“As the years have gone on, I know the players less personally,” Wambach explained. “But the reality is all of this analysis and expectation and criticism that is getting directed towards this team, that’s proof that this team has earned enough respect that people are actually capable of criticizing this team that we love, adore, and expect so much from.”
To mark this year’s World Cup, Wambach appeared in a new TV commercial developed by Frito-Lay entitled “Taste of Greatness.” The commercial brought together current women’s soccer stars and past icons, including Wambach, Mia Hamm, Carli Lloyd, Brandi Chastain, Mallory Swanson, Briana Scurry, Marta Vieira da Silva, Christine Sinclair, Julie Ertz and Crystal Dunn.
Wambach, who described her inclusion in the commercial as an honor, continues to be impressed with the resources Frito-Lay has put behind its support of the 2023 World Cup.
“As an athlete who went through a time where there wasn’t as much investment, to see that these bigger companies do these national ads is a huge deal,” she explained. “When I found out that the storyline of the commercial was going to be about bringing together generations of badass women, it was a no-brainer [to be involved].”
Mixing animation and reality, the spot shows a mother sharing her love for soccer with her daughter, introducing her to the action and fun of the sport using popular Frito-Lay snacks to represent past and present legends of the game. For Wambach, this notion of a mother telling the stories of past generations to her daughter mimics her own experience as both a former player and a parent.
“So many people during this tournament have asked me what advice I have for the younger players, much like that mother was trying to teach her child about the history of women’s soccer,” Wambach said. “I can only tell you about the stories I heard about the generations that came before me, so it’s like this big game of telephone. I can’t tell Sophia Smith or Crystal Dunn what their story is right now, because that’s their story to tell, not mine. As parents, we have to show our kids the world, and then it’s up to them to go out and make it what they want.”
As this generation of USWNT players begin to make their own history, Wambach is certain that the team will find their way this tournament.
“Be patient. The world is getting better, so the games are going to be tighter,” she said. “It’s going to be more uncomfortable and harder, but we have to give this team the energy and the presence to self-identify and figure out who they are.”
The USWNT will play its first knockaround match against a familiar opponent in Sweden on Sunday, August 6th at 5AM ET.
“In the knockout stages, when the going gets rough, I would put my money on the U.S. over every team in the world every time,” Wambach said.