USA vs. South Korea: Abby Wambach's Record-Setting Night

Al Bello

Thursday night was all about Abby Wambach, as she netted four goals en route to breaking Mia Hamm's international goals record of 158. With 160 goals, Wambach now holds the record for all players, male or female.

There was something somehow perfect about all four of them. Something somehow poetic about each of the goals Abby Wambach scored on Thursday night in the United States' 5-0 win over South Korea to break Mia Hamm's longstanding record of 158 international goals. Wambach needed just 19 minutes to go from 156 to 159, and once she broke the record, Abby just kept on going.

But it wasn't that - not the speed with which it happened - that made it somehow perfect. It was instead, that all the goals were, each in their own way, so very Abby Wambach. Turning and outmuscling a defender, a diving header and a towering one, a crash through the box. These are the ways that Wambach went from the chaser to the chased.

But that too is only part of the story, part of what made each one seem somehow perfectly right. The other part is the how. The where each one came from, that each step towards history came packaged with its own, well, history.

On Saturday, Wambach netted goal number 156, coming in as a second half sub against the Korea Republic at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. It was a stoppage time penalty kick that put her within two of Hamm's record. And then, five days - and 12 years (and 207 games) - after Abby Wambach landed on history's doorstep, the U.S.'s star striker went full SWAT team right through the front door.

This night was, from the very beginning, very clearly Wambach's night. The U.S.'s entire gameplan seemed to revolve around getting her the ball, giving her the chances. And so, no one will remember the larger story from this night, but these are the facts; the U.S. trounced South Korea 5-0, with four first half goals from Wambach, and one from Cheney in the 64th minute.

Cheney also had a pair of assists on the night. Hope Solo started for the first time since undergoing surgery on her wrist in March, and was replaced by New Jersey native Jill Loyden at the half. Tom Sermanni mixed up the defense, with Crystal Dunn, Whitney Engen and Meghan Klingenberg getting the start alongside Christie Rampone. The U.S. outshot the Korea Republic 25-2, and 14-1 in shots on goal.

Not that any of that mattered much to the 18,961 that filled Red Bull Arena. The history they'd come here to see? All done and witnessed by the half-hour mark.

There was a feeling that it was possible, that Wambach could at least tie the record. Two goals was not a big ask from someone that had already managed 156, after all. But that Wambach would get within one, tie and then break the record all in a span of 19 minutes? Oh, and then there was the part where she just kept on scoring.

The first - or the 157th - came in minute 10. Cheney hit a chip to Wambach in the box. Wambach turned her defender and fired, giving the U.S. the 1-0 lead, and bringing the magic number down to one.

And this was the combination - and almost the exact same play - that would tie the record too. Nine minutes later, with both players in almost exactly the same spot, Cheney again played a ball into the box for Wambach, who this time went with the diving header, putting the U.S. up 2-0 and putting herself even with Hamm on 158.

Cheney, the player who had replaced Wambach on the 2008 Olympic roster when Abby broke her leg on the eve of those games. And two goals, both so very Wambach; one outmuscling a defender, the other that classic diving header.

Suddenly, the hero of this generation was now level with the hero of the last - and there was still a lot of game left. More history to be written.

No. 159 had, perhaps, the most perfect kind of poetry of them all. That there were 18,000-plus there to see present finally meet past, is thanks in large part, to one moment. Rapinoe to Wambach, 123rd minute; the moment. The play that brought the U.S. - and in many ways women's soccer in the U.S. - back from the brink.

It was here, at Red Bull Arena, that the U.S. Women's National Team played its final sendoff match before the 2011 Women's World Cup. It was here, in Harrison, that a meager crowd just 5,852 strong showed up to send that team off. And so, it had to be, that two years later, this team would come back to this place, to a crowd multiplied by three based in large part on the moment and those two players, to write history again. And so, they did.

Ten minutes after tying Hamm's record, Wambach set a new one. On a U.S. corner in the 29th - one of 11 the Americans had on the night, because apparently no one told Korea you are in fact allowed to clear to the sidelines rather than the endline - Rapinoe sent a floating ball into the box. You know this story, the Rapinoe to Wambach one, and you know too, how it ends. Towering header, pure power into the back of the net. Last time it was to save the U.S.A.'s life, this time it was Abby Wambach, finally able to stop chasing.

At that moment, there was no one in the world, in history - male or female - with more international goals than Abby Wambach. But then, in first half stoppage time, Abby Wambach's international goals record was broken - fittingly, by Abby Wambach. The 160th goal of Wambach's career - and lost in all this, her fourth of the night - came on another old Wambach standby. Alex Morgan dribbled herself into an awkward angle before playing a ball across the goalmouth. And there came Wambach, crashing through the box and into the back of the net, ball meeting foot somewhere along the way.

And that one too was some kind of perfect in its combination, a nod - here's your head start, old-timer - from the next generation's hero, to this one's.

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