Jet-lag doesn't spoil Wambach homecoming

July 20, 2011 - 9:13 PM
Wambach Homecoming Soccer

The magicJack's Abby Wambach waves to fans before a Women's Professional Soccer league match against the Western New York Flash, Wednesday, July 20, 2011, in Rochester, N.Y. (AP Photo/David Duprey)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — From Germany to Letterman and now Rochester, Abby Wambach finds herself running on fumes.

"I'm exhausted," Wambach said Wednesday, before conducting yet another TV interview prior to her Women's Professional Soccer league match for magicJack against the Western New York Flash. "I'm just exhausted."

Her body's sore, as she is nursing tendinitis in her right Achilles' that might prevent her from playing in the game. Most of all, her mind's drained.

There's been the three days of non-stop travel, including a stint on "Late Show with David Letterman." Couple with that the disappointment of the U.S. women's World Cup final loss on penalty kicks to Japan in Germany on Sunday.

And if it wasn't for the opportunity to enjoy a homecoming in Rochester, Wambach would've preferred curling up the nearest bed for one long much-needed nap.

"We had a long road in Germany, and I have to take care of my body," she said, rubbing her eyes. "In the end, I'm here. That's saying a lot because this city means so much to me."

Wambach — along with goalie Hope Solo — might have been the face of the U.S. team during the three-week long tournament in captivating the nation back home with her gritty head-first lunging style and clutch goal-scoring ability.

But it's in Rochester, where the 31-year-old has always been known and celebrated as "Abby."

The enthusiasm was ever present on Wednesday.

Wearing her No. 20 jersey, Wambach received loudest cheers — and a 40-second standing ovation — as all players who competed in the World Cup were presented with flowers prior to the game. More cheers followed a few minutes later when Rochester Mayor Thomas Richards proclaimed this "Abby Wambach Day," and presented her with the key to the city.

Earlier in the afternoon, more than 1,500 screaming fans packed a mall food court in suburban Rochester for a rally. And it was at around 2:30 p.m. — five hours before game time — when fans braved the plus-90-degree temperatures and began lining up at the gates at Sahlen's Stadium.

One of the draws, aside from seeing Wambach in person, was the chance to be among the first 1,000 through the gates to receive a Wambach bobblehead doll.

"We had to choose between going to Eastview Mall, or coming for the bobblehead, and we wanted the bobblehead," said Nancy Brown, who was among the first at the stadium gate along with her daughter Emily and son Colby.

"This is very exciting," 11-year-old Emily Brown said, noting that she's had a Wambach poster on her wall since she was seven. "She's in my opinion the best soccer player in the world."

The game was listed as a sellout on Tuesday, with a crowd approaching 15,000 expected. Stadium officials even added a row of five temporary metal bleachers across the south end zone, adding about 1,500 more seats.

That leaves for the potential of the game setting a WPS attendance record, surpassing the mark of 14,832, set in the first game ever in 2009 at Los Angeles.

Other U.S. team stars on hand were magicJack's Megan Rapinoe and Flash's Alex Morgan.

Even Flash coach Aaran Lines couldn't help but get caught up in the excitement — even if it was for an opposing player.

"It's absolutely deserved," Lines said, of the attention being paid to Wambach.

"All the excitement of the women's game is just massive," Lines added. "This is massive for WPS. It's taken WPS to a whole new level."

Wambach said she drew pride not only in how the team battled through the tournament but "in the grace in which we lost" during and after a thrilling final.

"I've learned that this country isn't just about winning — that's something I didn't know before," she said. "We are getting celebrated here in the United States like we won the World Cup. . . . We want to look at this whole thing in a positive light."

A homecoming might have provided her some additional perspective.

Vendors sold Wambach T-shirts, with "I Love Abby" printed on the front. The "Love" part was in the shape of a heart with soccer ball lines printed through it.

"Hilarious," Wambach said, referring to the welcome she's received. "It's been almost a dream. Without the win, of course."

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Associated Press Writer Ben Dobbin contributed to this report.