A little more than a year. Abby Wambach had to remind herself that’s the small sliver of time that has elapsed since her last visit to Florida Atlantic University.
She wasn’t the only member of the U.S. Women’s National Team thinking that way Friday afternoon.
The signs on the main artery through FAU say University Drive. But as the bus pulled up for the women to train for their soccer exhibition against China at 7 p.m. Saturday, those signs may as well have said Memory Lane.
“Life as we knew it, ever since I stepped foot here and then left, has been totally different,” Wambach said.
She left as player/coach of a defunct magicJack club based at FAU, but returns as a gold-medal winner from the London Olympics. Saturday night caps a 10-city, coast-to-coast “Fan Tribute Tour” to put an exclamation point on 2012.
The team’s 27-1-3 record exemplifies the year this has been. When Wambach talks about “many different problems” the women have, she hastens to add they’re “good problems,” such as their pick of endorsements and appearances.
Take forward Alex Morgan, who at age 23 can say she rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, then hit higher notes by claiming the team’s Player of the Year honors with 28 goals and 20 assists.
Take goalkeeper Hope Solo, the former Dancing With The Stars performer whose whirlwind past few months involved a new romance with former NFL tight end Jerramy Stevens that resulted in their marriage last month. The wedding came just one day after police intervened in what they labeled an argument, but one a judge said produced no evidence of an assault. Tabloid headline writers might be surprised to know Solo told fans following practice Friday, “I’m happy. I found the right man.”
Solo, Wambach, Christie Rampone and Megan Rapinoe were among the national team stars who also played for the magicJack, albeit on a small soccer field a few blocks from Saturday night’s site, FAU Stadium.
“A brand-new football stadium,” Wambach said. “For [Saturday], it’ll be the proper word of a ‘football’ stadium.”
The 30,000-seat structure was under construction in the magicJack days. Too bad, Rampone said.
“Of course, the selfish side of me wishes we could play in a stadium like this on a regular basis,” Rampone said. “But we’ll take it for a game.”
Rapinoe recalled drawing packed crowds at the smaller venue after the team’s run to the 2011 Women’s World Cup final, shortly before Women’s Professional Soccer league organizers blamed a dispute with magicJack owner Dan Borislow for the league’s demise.
“To be honest, we kind of internally knew that the league was struggling, obviously,” Rapinoe said. “It wasn’t the biggest surprise in the world, but it’s disappointing, for sure.”
A new eight-team league, backed by the U.S. Soccer Federation but bypassing South Florida, has been announced. Although Wambach said most national-team players are committed to the league, Solo, known for independence, isn’t one.
“I personally haven’t made up my mind if I’m going to play in the league or not,” she said. “It’s to be determined how professional the league really is. I hope it stays because the next time we come out with a league, it better not collapse again. It better be here to stay.”
She refused to say what will influence her decision.
“I hope in my career I could come back one day to play professionally in Florida because it was a great experience for me,” Solo said. “I spent a lot of time down in Tampa after my marriage, which has been incredible to get to know the state a little bit more and fish a little bit, to enjoy the sunshine. I have nothing but great memories here in Florida.”