For Abby Wambach and the U.S. women's soccer team, which arrived on native soil Monday from Germany after a disappointing finish to the World Cup on Sunday, the New York homecoming was unexpected and heartwarming.
"We were walking through [Newark] airport, there was a bunch of people with flags, cheering, asking for autographs," Wambach said. "All the airport security seemed to want to have a picture with everybody; usually they're telling you not to do something."
Wambach recalled the scene while in the midst of another appreciative crowd of several hundred in midtown Manhattan, who cheered as the team bus pulled up to the W Hotel. "Really humbling," she said while holding 16-month-old Reece Rampone, the daughter of team captain Christie Rampone. Like her older sister, Rylie, Reece wore a stars-and-stripes dress.
"Truthfully, it brought my spirits up more than anything could have," Wambach said. "I'm so disappointed for my teammates, myself, I'm so disappointed for our country because I really feel we had it, and it was so close. Coming home to this type of reception is truly one of the best things that ever happened."
The team, she said, was still "a bit devastated for not having won, but we're trying to pick up our pieces and see the positives in all this. Obviously we wanted to bring home the Cup; we felt we played well enough to do that. Obviously, the Japanese proved to be stronger-willed in the end . . . I think we gathered a country back together again and I think there's something to be said for that."
But the regrets will linger, said goalkeeper Hope Solo, who failed to stop three of four shots in the penalty kick shootout against Japan. "You always wonder if there was something different that you could have done," she said. "I'll be doing that for quite some time, and I'm hoping I get out of my funk in a little bit because we have Olympic qualifications [in January] and I'm taking it pretty hard right now.''
Wambach, 31, shook off some of the blues right away. "As soon as I got in the locker room, I started thinking about 2012, London's going to be fantastic, we've just got to qualify,'' she said. "You know, I just feel so strong about this team. We built belief and trust in each other that may not have been there in the past five years, so I think the things we're going to take away from this are big positives, and moving forward, I think we're going to be a tough team to beat."
Carli Lloyd figures it won't be easy, compared with the past. "I don't think that every single team was as strong as they are now," Lloyd said. "In a couple days we'll head back to our [Women's Professional Soccer] teams, I'll be in Atlanta, at some point we're all going to need some rest. It's been pretty much three or four years of going straight."