Portland, Ore – The three finalists for the Women’s Ballon d’Or, or the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year were announced today, and two Americans made the cut, with Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, joining five time winner, Marta, from Brazil. Four of that original 10 nominees are members of the United States team that is currently touring the country, on The Fan Tribute Tour, that pulled into Portland last night.
The United States easily handled the challenge presented by a young Irish team, winning 5-0, led by Gotsoccer’s pick for the Ballon d’Or, Alex Morgan, who claimed a hat trick last night. We spoke to Morgan after her fine performance, and her three fellow American nominees after Tuesday’s open practice, before the three finalists were announced.
We had two topics that we wanted to hear from nominees on. This is some of what Morgan, Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd had to say on being nominated for the highest individual honor in their sport, and on their feelings about the new women’s league.
While Abby Wambach said she is excited about the new league and this new template, she wants to make clear that, “there are things about this model that have to happen that I don’t like.” “Pay,” Wambach says, “and healthcare; certain things that in my opinion, are below the standard that this national team has built itself up to.”
Standing on the sideline at Portland’s Jeld-Wen Field, Wambach spoke intently of the dilemma facing herself and her team mates. Having lived through two failed leagues, the WUSA and WPS, Wambach still wants to be part of a new league in her home country, but she knows that success is no easy thing.
Although salaries, like much else about the coming league, are still up in the air, Wambach seems certain that, “the national team will be taking a big pay cut to play in the league.” With a nod, Wambach indicates the fans in the stands on this crisp Portland evening and says, “we’re doing that because we want to do right by these fans.” “We want,” Wambach says forcefully, “to actually have a league that’s stable.”
The superstar goal scorer stresses that, “the national team players will be fine. We will be paid less than we would be paid overseas,” and that she says, “is a sacrifice that all of us are trying to get used to.” Wambach expects some players to take the money and run, to Japan or Europe. She is ok with that. But, Wambach says, “ I am not going to sit here and say that everything about the business model is perfect.”
Much has been made of U.S.Soccer’s financial stake in the league, but Wambach maintains that there will still, “have to be rich owners to sustain these teams.” “The United States Soccer Federation is going to supplement them for a year at least, and we’ll see.” U.S. Soccer hasn’t publicly indicated any time frame, but Wambach, “can only hope that the investors and these teams know that the reality is, that they are not going to be making money right off the bat.”
“It took this team 25 to 30 years,” Wambach reminds, “to develop, to get the crowds that we’ve gotten, and it’s ebbed and flowed over the years.” “It is something you have to grow,” and Wambach stresses, “you have to be willing to lose a little money in the process.”
Wambach was thoughtful too in her remarks on the Ballon d’Or. Her highest finish to date was last year’s third place finish, behind winner Homare Sawa and Marta, who took the honors the five years previous. Wambach praised both players and added, “it is such an amazing honor just being put on the same sheet as some of the best players in the world, and it is enough for me.”
Of being nominated with three teammates, Wambach says, “there is no better honor, because we play as a team, and it says a lot to the kind of people this team is about.” “We are team oriented,” Wambach notes, “and that’s the only way we came away with the gold medal.”
Carli Lloyd is also excited about the league, and like Wambach, spoke of sustaining a league. “We can’t keep having this, it’s here for a couple of years, then it folds,” Lloyd told Gotsoccer. “It’s just going to grow slowly, people aren’t going to get a ton of money playing for this league.” “The second thing,” Lloyd said, “is we need to fill seats. I don’t think 5,000 tickets being sold for games is good enough. We need to creep toward the 10,000 mark for the league to grow.”
“All the possibilities of the league are very exciting,” to Megan Rapinoe, but the winger maintains, “we are a little wary.” Rapinoe finds the Ballon d’Or nomination , “very flattering,” and jokingly downplays any rivalry among teammates for the honor. “Nah,” she laughs, “they all know I’m better than them.” Turning slightly more serious Rapinoe says, “my money is on Alex this year, I think she’s had an absolutely brilliant year.”
Morgan acknowledged the Ballon d’Or, “as a huge honor,” and said that, “ I think this year has been great for a lot of us.” Like her international teammates Morgan is excited about the new league and is, “ looking forward to playing in the States and helping the development of women’s soccer.”
For Carli Lloyd, “the Ballon d’Or is pretty special.” Lloyd admits that, “from the start of being part of this team, being nominated for the FIFA World Player of the Year has been a goal for me.” Lloyd pause to gather her thoughts, saying finally, “to be on the shortlist is something really special, so I’m climbing up there.”
Lloyd, who would score the only two goals for the United States in the Gold medal winning game versus Japan at this summer’s London Olympics was reminded of being dropped from the starting lineup at the beginning of the Games. Again, Lloyd considers her response, “obviously it was not the way I expected it to go. But, if you look throughout the years and what I’ve accomplished, and what I’ve done with this team,” Lloyd says, “I’ve continued to grow and I’ve continued to improve as a player, and I think I was ready.”
Ready when Shannon Boxx went down injured in the first game, and ready to go on and score four goals in the tournament to finish joint top with Wambach on the U.S. goal scoring list. Getting benched by coach Pia Sundhage hurt Lloyd’s competitive pride, and even now the Olympic hero can’t let it go. “It was just a coaches decision at the time,” Lloyd says, “and she told me it was the wrong decision. I just had to kind of move on and persevere through it, and it was a great experience.” Lloyd was clearly hurt by the entire episode but she said, “I knew that didn’t want to take one person’s opinion and crumble as a player.”
Lloyd didn’t crumble, and the United States women’s soccer has another gold medal to show for it. She won’t win the Ballon d’Or this year, but as Lloyd herself put it she really is, “climbing up there.”