Abby Wambach, the co-captain of the U.S. Women's National Team, has been named the 2012 FIFA Women's World Player of the Year, and Pia Sundhage, who led the USA to the 2012 Olympic gold medal, has been named the 2012 World Coach of the Year for Women's Soccer.
Wambach and Sundhage received the awards today at the 2013 FIFA Ballon d'Or gala in Zurich, Switzerland, as the world's governing body for soccer held its annual event. Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Argentina was named the FIFA World Player of the Year for the fourth year in a row.
"I'm very, very surprised," Wambach said. "Individual honors only happen if you have great teams and great people who have given you the chance to be here. Not only do I think Marta and Alex could have won, but many other players could have been here as well. Thanks to FIFA, thanks to U.S. Soccer and thanks to all the fans and my family for putting me in this position. I don't think of myself as the best player in the world, just a player who plays on the best team in the world."
This marks the third time an American woman has been named FIFA Women's World Player of the Year following Mia Hamm's selection in 2001 and 2002, the first two years the award was presented. Wambach finished first in voting by coaches and captains of women's national teams from around the world. Each ballot allowed the coaches and captains to name their top three players, with a first-place nomination worth five points, and positions two and three rewarded with three points and one point, respectively.
Wambach's strike partner Alex Morgan, who scored 28 goals with 21 assists in one of the best scoring years in U.S. history, took third place in the voting and five-time FIFA Women's World Player of the Year Marta of Brazil took second in this year's voting. Together, Wambach and Morgan accounted for 55 goals, tying a record for most goals scored by a duo in U.S. history that was set in 1991 by Michelle Akers (39) and Carin Jennings (16).
"The contributions Abby Wambach has made to U.S. Soccer and women's sports in general are far-reaching and significant," said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. "Her play on the field during her entire career and her leadership this year in helping capture the gold medal were both inspirational and consistently world-class. As a person and a player, she has represented her country and her teammates for more than a decade with tremendous professionalism. We are extremely happy for Abby and proud that a U.S. player has won such a prestigious award from FIFA for the third time."
Sundhage becomes the first coach of a U.S. team to win the award, which was instituted in 2008. Sundhage finished third in voting for World Coach of the Year in 2008 and second last year behind Japan head coach Norio Sasaki. Sasaki was the runner-up for this year's award and France's Bruno Bini was third.
Sundhage ended a spectacular five-year tenure at the helm of the U.S. team in September of 2012, finishing off her run that included two Olympic gold medals and a second-place finish at the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup with a rousing 6-2 victory against Australia in Commerce City, Colo. She finished her career as head coach of the USA with an 88-6-10 record, including 20-1-1 this year before she left to take the job as the head coach of the Sweden Women's National Team in her home country.
"Pia's time as our head coach was one of the greatest in our program's history and she did a fantastic job with the team this year," said Gulati. "The work that she and her staff did in guiding the team to wins in all six games at the Olympics was tremendous, and she is certainly deserving of this award."
The 2012 FIFA Women's World Player of the Year and her teammates return to the field on Feb. 9 when the U.S. WNT opens its 2013 schedule against Scotland at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla. The match will kick off at 5 p.m. ET, and broadcast information will be released at a later date. It will be new head coach Tom Sermanni's first official match.