She may be one of the most composed, yet toughest players to ever step foot on the soccer field. Yes, we’re talking about pro soccer player, one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People, and highest all-time goal scorer internationally among both men and women, Abby Wambach. She has played with the likes of Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain — winners of the infamous 1999 World Cup — and more recently Alex Morgan and Hope Solo, whom she hopes to take home the title with in 2015. We chatted with her in March 2014 about being a leader to her younger teammates, expectations for the upcoming World Cup, and what hot drink she needs to have before every game.
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You’ve been on the U.S. National Team since 2003. How have you seen the team evolve over that time?
I’ve only ever had my own experience, so I can just speak to that. But our coaches have changed, along with the systems they want to run. And I’ve realized the older you get, the more you have to worry about being a leader and putting people in an environment to be successful. When I was younger I didn’t realize how important that was and how important those leaders are. I’m now very humbled and honored that I’m learning to be a better leader.
When all else fails, you rely on each other. That’s the only way you can have a championship team.
How else have you changed as a person and as a player in the past 12 years?
I’ve matured a lot. I was just this young kid when I got on the team and I wasn’t quite sure of or confident in my skills. That’s a major difference compared to now. Statistically, over the course of time, you become more successful and learn to gain that confidence.
On the other hand, I’m also older. So it’s more difficult to get fit than it used to be, and to stay agile.
What is it like now being on the team with a lot of younger players? What have they taught you?
Well, they teach me how to dance better. They also teach me about new music — like the Justin Biebers and Katy Perrys of the world. Hey, if it keeps you young at heart…! I’m pretty silly and I like to goof off and have a good time when we’re not playing, so it’s good to have some younger kids who like to play pranks and have fun. They’ve taught me a lot about leadership stuff — not just the game.
What kind of bond do you form when you’re with with the same people for so long?
When you spend so much time together, especially on the road, in hotels, and meal rooms at hotels, you become like a family in a lot of ways. And I say that because with families, sometimes you don’t always like your brothers and sisters. You fight, things get taken out of context, stuff is mistranslated.. But when all else fails, you rely on each other. That’s the only way you can have a championship team.
I think of myself as a person who shows up in big moments and big games, and that comes from the people around me — I need good people. And that goes for all of life, too, not just soccer.
You hold the record for the highest all-time goal scorer for the national team and the world record for international goals for both female and male soccer players. What does that even feel like, knowing you have that accomplishment under your belt?
I’m proud of the goals I’ve scored for this team, more than you would know. But I think it’s important my teammates get recognized as well. I can’t pass the ball to myself and score. A lot of those assists were ridiculous crosses put in the box or straight hustle getting to the end line and laying the ball back. I’m lucky to be on such a good team, as you can tell based on the goals.
Is increasing that number a thought in your head each time you step on the field?
I don’t really think about that. I think more about winning the game. Of course, I want to score three goals in every game, but that’s not that likely.
Do you have any pre-game rituals?
I have to have a cup of coffee before the game. Black coffee. And I put my cleats on my left foot, then right foot. I don’t call these superstitions, though. They’re just routines.
What are you looking forward to most with the upcoming World Cup?
I’m looking forward to getting on top of that podium this time around. We lost in 2011 in the finals to Japan, which is what the Rise As One campaign [focused on]. And I think it’s interesting and cool that we’re still talking about 2011. We’re hoping to bring home that World Cup medal.
To watch the U.S. Women’s National Team continue their World Cup journey, tune in to see them play Sweden on Friday, June 12 at 7:30 p.m. on FOX Sports.
Originally posted March 2014. Updated June 2015.