Sports editor Sam Campisano had the opportunity to chat with retired soccer legend Abby Wambach before the Gatorade Player of the Year awards on Tuesday.
Read what she had to say on this year’s World Cup, the 1998 Gators and her favorite Gainesville pizza place:
How about that World Cup?
Abby: How about that U.S. National Team and the Women’s World Cup championship team? Epic in almost every fashion, right? It had excitement, it had pressure, it had a little bit of naysayer, it had speculation, it had analysis. Everything about this World Cup was so interesting and almost dramatic in this beautiful way, and our women’s team just kind of flipped it all on its head. They just took it by the horns and went with it and rode this World Cup to the end, and now they’re celebrating back in the States and having their ticker-tape parade tomorrow, so it’s super awesome. I’m thrilled for them and happy to be a part of the national team family.
Was it weird for you not being a part of the World Cup, seeing the team instead of playing for them?
Abby: No, I think that four years had passed since I retired, so that’s enough time. My wife asked me the same thing, ‘Do you have any feelings about this?’ And it’s like, you know, all of these women have experienced these last four years together, and I haven’t been a part of that. So I don’t know what they’re going through in terms of the inside jokes, I don’t know exactly what this lead-up has been like, I don’t know what the conversations are all like. I generally can figure it out, but this is their team, and though I was a part of this team for so many years, I would never want to insert myself into a team that I never belonged in. They made a name for themselves, and they are defining -- almost redefining, in a sense -- our women’s national team and what champion women can look like and how champion women can operate. It has been so beautiful and so honoring and so touching to watch. To have been a part of it for so many years is honestly the privilege and honor of my life, and I can’t wait to continue watching them because this is just the beginning. The Olympics are next summer.
Do you still follow the Gators soccer team? Do you still keep in touch with (UF soccer coach) Becky Burleigh?
Abby: Oh, yeah. Yeah, we were texting throughout the whole tournament. She was there, Erin Baxter was actually at the game, the captain of the UF team in 1998, the championship team, so I saw her in France. We were there with our kids, so it was really special.
You spoke about that ’98 team, the first and (so far) only Gators team to win a national championship. Where does that rank in terms of accomplishments in your career?
Abby: I think it’s definitely in the top five. Winning a national championship is no easy feat, and we did it against the University of North Carolina. Do I wish the University of Florida had more national championships? Absolutely. But like I said, it’s a hard thing, especially with the parity of women’s soccer.
Here’s one for you: Favorite Gainesville pizza place?
Abby: Oh, what is it called? Leonardo’s. The garlic sauce, you can’t get better.
I’m sure they’ll love hearing that.
Abby: Are they still open? I heard that they’re closing.
Yes, as of right now they are still open. But word on the street is that they could close at any minute, so if you’re ever in town, make sure you stop by.
Abby: Oh, I do (when I'm in town), yeah.
Anything you want to say to the Gator Nation out there?
Abby: Yeah, I’m so proud of the time that I spent as a Florida Gator and it was instrumental in my development. The Florida Gator program really helped shape the way that I think about sports and helped turn me into a professional, so I’m so grateful, so thankful for them and always, forever, will bleed orange and blue.
Follow Sam Campisano on Twitter @samcampisano and contact him at [email protected].