ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Once the U.S. women's soccer team's victory tour suddenly turned into a farewell tour for coach Pia Sundhage, Abby Wambach — in her homecoming, no less — wanted to send her off on a fitting note Saturday.
Wambach scored twice and added an assist in an 8-0 exhibition win over Costa Rica, before heading to the bench and giving Sundhage a long, warm hug.
"I never do that," Wambach said, referring to the hug. "That's a sign of where it's going to be hard not to leave a field and get into the locker room and not see her. I love Pia so much, because she has shown me what it's like to love the game."
Hours before kickoff, Sundhage informed the players of her decision to step down as coach and return to her native Sweden. She will depart following a successful five-year term in which she led the Americans to back-to-back gold medals and their first World Cup final in 12 years.
"It's really a difficult decision to make as you can imagine being around those guys. They make me look good," Sundhage said, pointing to her players following the game. Ultimately, she said, the decision came down to her heart in pursuing what she considers her dream job.
Sundhage has already had talks with Sweden soccer officials to take over the nation's women's team and replace Thomas Dennerby, who resigned last month. But she added, no agreement has yet been reached.
Sundhage is still the face of women's soccer in Sweden, which she led to the title as a player at the first European Women's Championship in 1984 and the bronze medal at the inaugural Women's World Cup in 1991.
She will stay as the U.S. coach for the next two games before leaving her job. The U.S. team will play a pair of exhibitions against Australia on Sept. 16 in Carson, Calif., and Sept. 19 in Commerce City, Colo. The U.S. then plays two-time World Cup champion Germany on Oct. 20 in Bridgeview, Ill., and Oct. 23 in East Hartford, Conn.
"Today we were kind of blindsided," midfielder Carli Lloyd said. "It was a bit of emotional and it's sad. And whatever lies ahead in her future, she's going to be phenomenal at it. I'm happy for her, but she's going to be missed."
U.S. Soccer will begin searching for a new coach immediately, but has no timetable for hiring a successor. There is no major tournament until the next World Cup in 2015.
Federation President Sunil Gulati said Sundhage's decision didn't surprise him. He said Sundhage indicated to him she was leaning toward returning to Sweden during a conversation the two had days after the women won the gold medal in London.
"It's always been a dream of hers," Gulati said. "It's not a sad day. It's a happy day as far as I'm concerned. We're happy for Pia. And we're happy that we've got the best women's team in the world."
The Americans improved to 89-6-10 since Sundhage took over in 2007.
Megan Rapinoe had two goals and an assist as the U.S. extended its winning streak to 12 and improved to 9-0-0 against Costa Rica. Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux and Heather O'Reilly also scored.
Sundhage's decision partly overshadowed Wambach's trip home to Rochester, where she is one of the city's most high-profile and adored athletes. A sold-out crowd of more than 13,208 attended the game, and Wambach jerseys were all over the stands.
Wambach was welcomed with a rousing cheer as she — in her bright yellow cleats — led the team on to the field and waved to the crowd. A day earlier, Wambach was honored by having the entry path to the stadium named in her honor.
The fans got what they wanted when Wambach headed in a cross from Rachel Buehler in the 24th minute on Saturday. As the crowd erupted, Wambach headed toward the bench where she was mobbed by her teammates.
She scored again seven minutes later to give her 145 goals in international play, which is second on the all-time list — and 13 behind former teammate Mia Hamm.
"I couldn't be more proud to have Rochester be my hometown, this be the first game of our victory tour and it be the way it just was," Wambach said. "It was electric."
Sundhage got the festivities off to a rousing start during a pre-game interview at midfield by breaking into song when asked what message she wanted to deliver fans regarding her departure. To cheers from the sold-out Sahlen's Stadium that holds more than 13,000 people, Sundhage took the microphone and sang a few lines from the Bob Dylan-written "If Not For You," which became a hit for Olivia Newton-John.
It proved a fitting coda — she also sang a Dylan tune at the first team meeting five years ago.
"English is not my mother tongue, and I have a hard time to express how grateful I am and how lucky. I'm the lucky one," Sundhage said of why she elected to sing. "I wanted to tell the fans, youth soccer, the coaches I've been working with, staff and the players, if not for you, you know. If not for you, I wouldn't find the door. I wouldn't be where I am."
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