ROCHESTER, N.Y. - Abby Wambach had a happy homecoming, and U.S. women's coach Pia Sundhage started saying her farewells in what proved to be an eventful kickoff to the gold-medal winning team's victory tour.
Hours before Saturday's 8-0 exhibition win over Costa Rica, Sundhage announced she will be stepping down and returning 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.
"I want to thank all the players and all of my assistant coaches for making me better," Sundhage said in a statement. "Before I took this job, I always admired the spirit and character of the U.S. team, but to experience that first-hand on the training field and from the bench as their coach was truly special and something I will treasure for the rest of my life."
Sundhage's departure is not exactly a surprise. She has long expressed an interest in returning home, and is sure to be a top candidate to replace Thomas Dennerby, who resigned last month after eight years as coach of the Swedish women's team. 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.
Wambach and Megan Rapinoe each 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. Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, 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 the co-captain — in her bright yellow cleats — led the team on to the field and waved to the crowd. A day earlier, Wambach was honoured by having the entry path to the stadium named in her honour, and about 1,000 fans showed up to cheer on Wambach during the U.S. team's practice.
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.
She departed in the 71st minute and fans chanted "Abby!" as Wambach raised her arms and waved before heading to the bench, where she gave Sundhage a big hug.
The Americans improved to 89-6-10 since Sundhage took over in 2007. Their 2-1 victory over Japan in last month's Olympic final was a rematch of the 2011 World Cup final and avenged the most painful loss in team history.
U.S. Soccer said it 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 will coach the next two games of the victory tour 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.
Gulati said Sundhage informed him of her decision on Saturday morning. He said it didn't come as a surprise because Sundhage had 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."
Sundhage, who finished her 22-year international career with 71 goals, acknowledged Friday she was thinking about returning home.
"I have to admit I've been away from my home for five years," Sundhage said. "The fact that Sweden is hosting the European championship (in 2013), that's a big thing of course. ... I want to do the right thing with U.S. Soccer and start with talking with them and see if I can give another four years. And that's a key, because this team, they deserve somebody that's committed 110 per cent."