Abby Wambach sets new mark

With her four goals against South Korea on Thursday night, U.S. striker Abby Wambach reached 160 career international tallies to pass Mia Hamm for the all-time soccer scoring record and stands atop what is arguably the most significant leaderboard in women's international team sports.

Here's why: Unlike other sports in that realm, women's international soccer has had nearly 30 years of consistent competition and accurate statistic-keeping. That gives Hamm's original mark of 158, and Wambach's eventual final number, more meaning.

Soccer's all-time lists benefit from a simple formula. All full international matches are counted. That includes so-called friendlies, World Cup matches and qualifiers, Olympic matches and qualifiers, and invitational tournaments like the annual Algarve Cup. Even in non-Olympic or non-World Cup years, women's soccer teams typically play more official matches than the equivalent teams in other sports.

Just to be clear, women's professional leagues aren't part of this mini-analysis. That would be comparing apples to oranges because it's not global competition. In other words, Hamm's relevant counterpart in basketball would have to come from the team that plays at the world and Olympic level, not the WNBA, and that team doesn't have as deep a history.

And this isn't a knock on the accomplishments of women in other international sports, such as elite ice hockey or softball. But just try to locate the all-time lists. They don't exist, except in the form of smaller samples compiled for single tournaments through the years -- the Olympics or world championships, for example.

Wambach has characteristically downplayed her pursuit of Hamm's mark, which she reached in considerably fewer matches. Going into Thursday, she had played in 206 matches compared to Hamm's 275. And Wambach is well aware that someone in the phalanx of U.S. forwards right behind her -- perhaps Alex Morgan -- has a good chance to knock her off the pedestal someday.

In the meantime, her numbers are easy to understand and should be easy to appreciate.

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