(Reuters) - Abby Wambach, the most prolific goalscorer of all time in international soccer, bowed out of the game in defeat on Wednesday when the United States women’s team lost 1-0 to China to end an unbeaten run of 104 matches on home soil.
Despite the best efforts of her American team mates to get the ball to her in the friendly played in front of 32,950 fans in New Orleans, Wambach had only a couple of half-chances to add to her tally of 184 international goals.
China struggled to get the ball out of their own half for long periods, but scored on a rare attacking foray when Wang Shuang connected with a cross in the 58th minute, her shot deflecting past a wrong-footed American goalkeeper Hope Solo.
The result, the first home loss for the U.S. since 2004, was not exactly the perfect Wambach send-off but it did not detract too much from an evening that was largely a celebration of her career.
She was substituted after 71 minutes, trotting off the pitch to a standing ovation after removing her boots and hugging several team mates.
Wambach bowed out with 184 goals, the most by either man or woman in internationals, from 255 matches. Iranian Ali Daei holds the men’s record with 109 goals in 149 games.
“It is time to go. I think it’s a little fitting that this is the result,” Wambach said in a pitch-side interview.
”I know everybody wanted to get me a goal. That’s probably why we didn’t score, because they were so focused on trying to get me a goal.
“I think it’s kind of appropriate I lost my last game. Today wasn’t about winning. Today was about celebrating a long career and almost the end of an era.”
Wambach, 35, will be remembered for her unflinching determination to advance the cause of American, and women’s, soccer on and off the pitch.
She was part of an unsuccessful player lawsuit that sued FIFA over its decision to play this year’s Women’s World Cup in Canada on artificial pitches.
And just two weeks ago she was a member of the American team that refused to play a match on what it said was sub-standard artificial turf in Hawaii, a stance that forced the US Soccer Federation to cancel the contest.
Outspoken to the last, she made her swansong on artificial turf at the Superdome just hours after saying U.S. men’s coach Juergen Klinsmann should be fired for playing too many overseas-born players.
Wambach retires just months after finally adding a World Cup winner’s medal to her collection, even if she only came on as a substitute late in the final against Japan.
The World Cup capped a career that includes two Olympic gold medals and the 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year title.
“She’s been vocal about everything, whether it’s turf-related issues, whether it’s just making this team atmosphere better, whether it’s fighting for women’s rights, equal pay, she’s done it all,” team mate Carli Lloyd said.
“I don’t think anyone will ever bring what she brings, her leadership on and off the field ... She’s basically carried the team on her shoulders over the years.”
Coach Jill Ellis summed up the feelings of many in U.S women’s soccer.
“She will be irreplaceable.”
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Nick Mulvenney