Throwback Thursday: Abby Wambach Keeps The USWNT Alive (July 10, 2011)

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Yesterday marked the end of the group stages in the 2015 Women’s World Cup. As expected, the United States Women’s National Team advanced to the knockout rounds with room to breathe. While they didn’t always look convincing, the results speak for themselves— seven points from a possible nine and a +3 goal difference rooted the US Women to the top of Group D. Yet if recent history is any indication, the path to the US’ third world championship will be anything but smooth.

To wit, here’s a look back at the previous installment of the Women’s World Cup, and how close the Americans came to an early exit.

Despite getting out of their group without much difficulty—they finished runners-up to Sweden but well ahead of North Korea and Colombia—the US struggled in their first test of the knockout rounds. They got on the board first thanks to an own goal from Daiane in the 2nd minute, but beyond that the Americans had trouble getting their attack going. Marta leveled things up midway through the second half and ended up sending the game into extra time. A Seleção’s talisman then managed to put her side ahead early in extra time thanks to a converted penalty. With time ticking away, it looked like the US were on their way to the airport and their worst ever World Cup performance.

But whatever intangible you believe characterizes the US national team—determination, grit, sticktoitiveness, dumb luck—came into play in the dying moments of extra time. Having won the ball from Christiane, the Americans moved the ball quickly amongst the back line and fed it to Megan Rapinoe. As she’s done so often in international play, Rapinoe took a few steps before launching the ball from long range into the box, straight at Abby Wambach’s head. The celebrated target woman and future Hall Of Famer leapt into the air, snapped her neck forward, and buried the ball in Brazil’s net with nary a minute to spare.

The goal rescued the United States from elimination, forcing a penalty shootout which the Americans won, and sent the Yanks on to the next round in spectacular fashion. The US would manage to fight their way to the Final, which they would ultimately lose to Japan on penalties (and probably inspired Fox Sports’ marketing tagline for the USWNT this summer, America Has A Score To Settle. Still, Wambach’s late goal against Brazil remains one of the most dramatic moments in US soccer history and, combined with her incredible goal tally, cemented the USWNT’s #9 as the team’s hero and gamechanger. (Though whether she can still fill that role is a matter of ongoing debate.)

The USWNT resume their campaign on Monday when they take on Colombia in the Round of 16 in Edmonton. Kickoff is at 8pm Eastern with the game airing on Fox Sports 1.