When soccer great Mia Hamm retired after the 2004 Athens Olympics with 158 goals scored in international competition, her record was seemingly unapproachable. Most players don’t even get near 158 caps, let alone that many goals.
Then along came the goal-scoring machine, Abby Wambach. As of the middle of the 2013 Algarve Cup competition, Wambach has closed to within four goals of Hamm’s record, and it is almost inevitable that she will surpass and extend the mark.
Because Hamm and Wambach were and are such different players in style and temperament, it is difficult to compare them.
In the air. Wambach certainly beats Hamm in heading the ball. In fact, in terms of just heading the ball for goals, Wambach, at five-feet eleven-inches tall, is the greatest woman’s player in history. It is her specialty.
Dribbling and passing the ball. Hamm was brilliant on the ball and a virtual highlight reel with her flexibility and ability to turn on a dime and change directions. She excelled at dribbling in space, dribbling in crowds and making pinpoint passes. Wambach is more of a classic striker in the mold of the legendary West German male striker, Gerd Mueller. Like Mueller, Wambach can seemingly disappear for long stretches of the game and suddenly strike for a goal at a moment’s notice. Give this category to Hamm but this is not really part of Wambach’s job description.
Field presence and leadership qualities. Both Wambach and Hamm left being the team captain to other players like Carla Overbeck, Julie Foudy and Christie Pearce (Rampone). Yet both Hamm and Wambach showed great leadership ability, on and off the field. Sometimes leadership comes down to producing when it matters most. Wambach is one of the greatest clutch players ever. In the finals at the 2004 Olympics, her header in overtime gave the U.S. a 2-1 triumph over Brazil and earned them a gold medal. In the quarterfinal game at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Wambach scored a header in stoppage time, also against Brazil, to tie the game which the U.S. went on to win. Her goal after the 120th minute was the latest scored in World Cup matches and won the ESPN’s 2011 ESPY Award for Best Play of the Year. Hamm also scored many game-winning goals in big matches and also set up many goals with her scintillating passes. They are even here.
Winning. Hamm helped establish the winning tradition of women’s soccer by being a key member of the 1991 and 1999 World Cup champions and the 1996 and 2004 Olympic gold medal winners. Wambach continued this winning tradition by being a member of the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympic champs, although in 2008 she had to miss the Olympic Games themselves due to a broken leg. Hamm has more overall major titles but this category is pretty even.
Versatility. Hamm could play midfield or forward and could shoot and pass accurately from seemingly any angle. She was in perpetual motion and threw her body around like a Raggedy Ann doll. Wambach is a classic striker who while on offense doesn’t stray too far from her post near the opponent’s goal. They had different roles to play but Hamm was the more versatile of the two.
Hamm scored her 158 goals in 275 appearances for the U.S. national team, while Wambach has tallied 154 times in 201 games. Wambach has the goal-scoring knack to take the record out to 200 goals. The two ladies played together in 2003 and 2004 and they complemented each other and had different purposes on the field. Wambach is the better goal scorer but Hamm was the better all-around soccer artist.