Was that a nightmare? Did we really lose?” Abby Wambach said to her teammates as she awoke on the flight home from this summer’s World Cup in Germany. Twice the U.S. women’s soccer team had come close to winning the championship match against Japan. Wambach had made what seemed like the decisive goal in overtime, only to see the Japanese even the score and then prevail in a penalty-kick shootout. The American players were gutted. But theirs was an unexpected defeat with surprising consequences.
“We knew our playing resonated,” Wambach says. “But we didn’t know how it would translate into dollars and cents.” Dan Levy, an agent with Wasserman Media Group who represents Wambach, was on the plane, too, doing some translating. His e-mail traffic had already tripled with requests for appearances by Wambach, who’s been a professional soccer player for nine years and is among the privileged few whose sponsorship deals afford them a comfortable living.