Western New York Flash manager Aaran Lines said he doesn't understand how U.S. international Abby Wambach can refuse to play at club level, and still be chosen for the U.S. women's national team.
Wambach announced Wednesday that she won't play for the Flash in the National Women's Soccer League this season. In a statement released by the club, she said, "At this stage of my career, I know what I need to prepare mentally and physically for this summer. My sole focus is to help bring a World Cup back to the U.S."
Wambach will turn 35 in June. She suffered through injuries, including a lingering knee injury, in 2014. But U.S. national team players are slated to play just the first three games of the NWSL season, which starts April 10, and then join up with the U.S. team for its World Cup preparations at the beginning of May. Left unexplained is why turning out for her club and preparing for the World Cup are mutually exclusive.
Lines said he respected Wambach's decision, and that he understands full well the importance of the World Cup. But he added that the women's game needed to operate in a manner similar to the men's side of the sport, where club performance dictates whether a player gets selected to the national team.
"Wambach has been a great servant to our club for the two years that we've had her," Lines said via telephone. "We're proud to have had her here at the club, and her statistics speak for themselves. What I don't really understand is how can a player make that decision to not play at club level, and still be able to play for her country? If you don't play for club in the men's game, you don't get the opportunity to play for country, do you? We need to head in that direction of the men's game."
Lines said he never discussed Wambach's decision with U.S. national team manager Jill Ellis, instead communicating with Wambach and USSF president Sunil Gulati.
Outwardly, by allowing Wambach to forgo the NWSL, the USSF appears to be creating a double standard. It is highly doubtful that other players would be given the same latitude Wambach has been given. But Ellis, in a statement released by U.S. Soccer, indicated she had given her blessing to Wambach's choice.
"Abby made a personal decision to do what she feels is best for her to be mentally and physically prepared for the World Cup," Ellis' statement said. "The NWSL provides a beneficial environment for our players, but her situation is unique and I understand and respect her thought process. The support and cooperation by the NWSL owners and coaches has helped us ensure we are preparing for the World Cup in the best way possible."
Lines said Wambach informed him of her decision after the NWSL draft in mid-January, giving the club little time to find a replacement -- if such a thing is even possible for the 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year. He also tried to find a middle ground in terms of travel. The Flash's first two games of the season are on the west coast at the Seattle Reign and the Portland Thorns.
"We tried to work with [Wambach]," Lines said. "She'd been with us for two years. It's not like you're integrating another player. We tried to figure out a solution that may have worked for her, because she is 34 years of age, doesn't travel as a 22-, 23-year-old. We understand that."
Lines confirmed that Wambach will not return after the World Cup, either. Wambach told SI.com that she is exploring playing overseas next season, and intends to play in the 2016 Olympics. Wambach did not respond to a request for an interview.
When asked if there was a chance Wambach would return next season, Lines said, "I wouldn't think so if she's not playing this year. It's an Olympic year, a similar year."
Lines said he is of the belief that personal considerations played a part in her decision. Wambach and her wife, Sarah Huffman, live in Portland, Oregon.
"We had a couple of conversations last year when she was newly married," he said. "Things change in your life. I think that was a big part of this, perhaps. The other side of it is the physical constraints. They were solvable with our schedule the first three games. I think this is more Abby's personal decision about her personal life. You respect that."
The U.S. women's national team will play its next game April 4 when it takes on New Zealand in St. Louis.