Now It’s My Turn – Abby Wambach

It’s no secret that I am an avid fan of Abby Wambach, always have been, always will be. As such I’m over all the bullshit arguments people are making against her decision to sit out NWSL this year and solely play NT.

Let’s list some of the arguments against her decision:
A) Men aren’t able to skip club and just play NT
B) Wambach is being a prima donna
C) Wambach is thumbing her nose at NWSL and doesn’t support the league or having a league in the US.
D) Wambach has left WNY in the lurch with an empty roster spot and another player salary to pay because she was allocated and bankrolled by USSF.
E) Wambach is playing USSF/US Soccer because she’s not in jeopardy of losing her WC roster spot.
I’m sure there are others I’ve missed in the list, but this is a good start.

Now let’s see why I think they are bullshit:
A) In 2010, New Zealand (ironically WNY coach Aaran Lines’ home country) had 2 players play on WC MNT with no club affiliation, Australia had one. And to the extent my search attempts have been successful I haven’t been able to find any FIFA rule that states a player MUST play for a club to be selected to play on their national team. So maybe it’s Lines’ opinion, but that doesn’t make Wambach sitting out it wrong.
B) I have been unable to find an interview with Wambach by any media outlet that paints her as anything but confident and humble, usually giving credit for any personal accomplishments to her teammates, club or country. So saying she feels “entitled” to this consideration is a stretch. My opinion is she’s doing this because she feels she must –  not just because she can. (See E below)
C) Wambach started playing US professional club soccer in 2002 and has played in WUSA, WPS, and NWSL. She has been a public advocate of a US professional league for women and still is. She is one player on one team and her choosing not to play this year will not sink the league. If other players choose to play any place other than NWSL, that is their choice and will be handled by USSF/NWSL on a contractual and individual basis. Players have always had a choice where to play regardless if people think they were coerced into playing in NWSL. Her willingness to still make public appearances for WNY shows she still supports the league and its growth.
D) Lines himself admitted that he had had conversations with Wambach as far back as 2014 about her possibly not playing in 2015, so saying he was blindsided is stretching the truth. He also admits to trying to work a deal with Wambach, which to be honest just because someone offers you a deal and you turn it down doesn’t make you the bad guy. Did Wambach wait until after the draft to confirm it? We’ll have to take Lines word on that, but don’t you think he would have nailed that down before the draft if there was any question at all that she might not play? And as to WNY having to pay the player filling Wambach’s roster spot, rubbish. If you read the roster rules (OK, I concede they change without warning, but I’m using the last ones publicly available) any team that has over the specified allocated limit has to pay part of those player’s salary back to the league to be distributed to the teams that have under the allocated limit of players. So, WNY will be compensated for Wambach’s salary just like for the third allocated player they don’t have. WNY will not suffer in that regard. Being able to give another player a paid roster spot and WNY being able to not have to worry about another NT player being absent are just extra perks of Wambach’s decision.
E) No one player, Wambach or otherwise runs USSF or US Soccer. Does Wambach have some influence and do USSF/US Soccer listen when she speaks? Yes, I would imagine so. Any organization is wise to listen to employees who have “been there, done that”. Is she a marketable commodity? Without a doubt. Are these the reasons she’s been able to take this NWSL season off? I’m not naive enough to think they don’t play a role, but other considerations are in play as well. Wambach has arguably carried the hopes and dreams and marketability of the USWNT for over a decade. Training, playing, being targeted by opposing teams, winning, making appearances, being the face of the team at every dog and pony show for over a decade takes its toll. I think it’s not the least bit unreasonable to grant the request of a player to sit out a club season in support of the national team under those circumstances. Even most Wambach detractors still recognize her value to the team in big tournaments. I don’t agree with the 90 minute games Ellis has had her playing, but that doesn’t lessen her value when on the pitch. That is why she will be on the roster, not because she’s someones favorite or they “owe” her a spot or that she’s some sort of aging charity case, because she brings value that is unique to her.

There is no real way you can compare Wambach’s situation to any male NT player. The experiences of women on the NT and in US professional leagues is so very different it would be like comparing a chair to a pineapple. Since its inception the WNT has served as the women’s club team, leagues being so sporadic, short-lived and unpredictable that the only constant was playing for the NT. That USSF has finally decided to get behind a league as a development pathway for future NT players is commendable (and about time), but by no means provides the level of support the NT does for players. I think we can all agree we want the NWSL to grow and thrive to be the provider of that support, but it’s far from there right now.  This configuration is new and evolving and comparing recent or current male NT players to Wambach in this regard is not even fathomable to me.

Maybe your personal opinion of Wambach is colored black & white by recent events – WC lawsuit, calling out WNY teammates for lack of effort- or older events like MagicJack, but at least be willing to consider that there may just be some grey area in there.

Last season fans were outraged that players “had to” return to the US to play in NWSL and give up getting experience and making better money internationally. Now they’re screaming Wambach could spark an exodus – which is it fans? Do players “owe” NWSL their loyalty, or does that just extend to legends of the game?

Feel free to have at my arguments in the comments, all civil discourse encouraged.

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