Abby Wambach retires from soccer, but she's not going anywhere

US women's soccer star Abby Wambach will play her final game tonight against China in New Orleans, but she will continue to fight for equal pay and respect for female athletes.

Gerald Herbert/AP
US forward Abby Wambach waves to fans at the end of a practice session Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. Wambach is in New Orleans preparing for Wednesday's final US victory tour match, against China. Wambach will be playing in her final match with the team.

Wednesday night, the US Women’s National Soccer Team will play China in New Orleans. This game not only marks the end of the World Cup champions’ "Victory Tour," but it is also the final game for one of the team’s star players: Abby Wambach. 

The 35-year-old forward boasts a remarkable soccer career, with two Olympic gold medals, a World Cup victory, and the title of FIFA’s World Player of the Year in 2012. Over the course of her 15-year-long professional career, Wambach has scored 184 goals in international play, which is more than any other soccer player – man or woman.

“I am so blessed to have been inspired by Abby Wambach as a little girl to one day play on the women’s national team,” Morgan Brian, Abby’s teammate on the US Women’s National Team, told The Christian Science Monitor Wednesday.

“Abby is a legend on and off the field. She never ceases to amaze me with her leadership skills, how she treats people, and the things she does on the soccer field that you can’t teach. Thank you Abby, for all you have done for women’s soccer and the game,” Brian added. 

Beyond the field, Wambach has been a powerful advocate for gender equality, a legacy that she plans to continue post-retirement. 

“I’m going to get everybody I possibly can on board so we can really figure out how to solve the problem of inequality and not just in sports, in every industry – in Hollywood, in politics, in business, in tech. Enough is enough,” Wambach told Rochester’s The Democrat and Chronicle. “I think at this point in my life that I’m passionate enough and pissed enough to help make this change.” 

How does Wambach plan to help? By leveraging her celebrity status. 

“The relevancy that I’ve been able to garner over the last couple years gets me into certain rooms right now, so I’m taking advantage of it as much as possible,” Wambach told the Democrat and Chronicle. 

For winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the US Women’s National Team won $2 million, far less than the $35 million Germany’s men’s team won for winning the 2014 World Cup. More shocking, each men’s team eliminated in the first round of the 2014 Cup got $8 million, four times as much as the 2015 women’s champions. 

And while it strikes many as morally wrong, others argue that it’s easy to explain the gender pay-gap in sports economically because men have far more fans equating to more attendance and sponsorships. But as Wambach points out, the 2015 World Cup proves the tide is turning. 

“It was – 31 million people watched that game. And it’s the most that’s ever been watched by men or women playing the game that we love,” Wambach told National Public Radio. “I mean, to me it’s like hey, sponsors, hey, corporate America, hey, people, did you hear what I just said? Like, more than the men’s team – ever.”

Wambach’s gripe with gender inequality in the sports industry expands past salary. 

Over a year ago, Wambach led a lawsuit against FIFA and the organizers of the 2015 World Cup for discrimination, “claiming that the women shouldn’t play the World Cup on artificial turf when the men’s tournament demands – and receives – grass fields,” The New York Times reported. Although the players eventually dropped the suit so they could focus on the game, the battle for equity is not over.

“[Women’s soccer] is now better than I found it,” Wambach told the Times. “There are players that are better than I am that will take this game into the next decade.” 

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