Champions of the women's game: Wambach, Gulati enter Hall together
As Abby Wambach was being inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame, it was inevitable that someone eventually would talk about that goal, the one that grew the fan base of the U.S. Women’s National Team by at least double.
When she banged home a header to pull the U.S. even against Brazil in the 122nd minute of play in the 2011 World Cup Quarterfinals – in the dying moments of the match – the reaction shook the world. It was the signature score in a career full of goosebumps moments.
Ever the good teammate – a trait she learned from birth as the youngest of seven children – Wambach is quick to point out that the scoring sequence started with a teammate’s defensive steal and required a perfect cross from Megan Rapinoe.
The moment has since become a metaphor, Wambach says. It only takes one shot to change your fortune, but you can’t do it by yourself.
As the spotlight shined on her at her induction, the world’s greatest international goal scorer said any credit she’s given for the popularity of women’s soccer should also go to Sunil Gulati, the former president of the U.S. Soccer Federation who was inducted with her in the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019.
“There’s too much to say in terms of the things Sunil did above and beyond his role as president to make sure that the game was moving in the right direction, that progress was in fact happening,” she said. “And there was no bigger women’s soccer champion than Sunil Gulati – that’s truth.”
To be sure, the induction ceremony of Wambach and Gulati was a testimony to the value of teamwork and a celebration of the American game’s amazing growth. And the respect was mutual.
“When somebody asks, ‘What’s the success of the Women’s National Team based on?’ I would say, ‘I call Abby, she tells me what they need, and we get it done,’” Gulati said. “There’s some truth in that. … Abby is extraordinary, and going in [to the Hall of Fame] with her brings me a lot of joy.
“As I have said – and as she is proving every day of the week – beyond what she did on the field, which was extraordinary, I believe Chapter Two of Abby’s soccer life is going to bring even more positives than the soccer part, which is a really high bar.”
Wambach’s resume is a seemingly infinite recitation of victories and achievements: She won one World Cup title and two Olympic gold medals in 255 international appearances for the United States between 2001 and 2015. She won a national title at the University of Florida, and she was named U.S. Soccer’s Female Player of the Year six times, CONCACAF Female Player of the Year once and FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year twice.
“She has always been ‘all in,’ whether that means scoring big-time goals, being there for your friends who needed a shoulder to lean on – or helping change the face of women's soccer as a country,” said Christie Pearce Rampone, the former U.S. captain who presented her for induction – and the teammate whose defensive play started the sequence that lead to Wambach’s signature goal. “We are so fortunate that we had someone of Abby’s stature representing us and leading us on and off the field over the years.
“She has always taken the weight of expectations on her shoulders and perform far beyond what anyone could ever ask or expect.”
Gulati, an economics lecturer at Columbia University, has more than four decades of service at all levels of the sport.
He was president of the U.S. Soccer Federation from 2006 through 2018; during his tenure, the U.S. Women’s National Team won two World Cups, and the men qualified for five in a row.
Though he led the U.S. program during unprecedented success on the men’s side, Gulati is perhaps best known for his dedication to growing the women’s game, leading the charge to establish the National Women’s Soccer League.
“It is indisputable that our national team programs simply would not be what they are today without his vision, without his commitment to youth development,” said Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber, who presented Gulati for induction. “He has had the courage and strength to always do the right thing regardless of the consequences – and without seeking glory.”
The Hall of Fame also honored photojournalist Tony Quinn for his work with the Colin Jose Media Award.