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Wambach back in fold for Flash

It would have been easy for Abby Wambach to settle into life in the Pacific Northwest.

She loves the area, bought a house in Portland, Ore., and spends as much time there as she can. She could have played for the Portland Thorns FC and been comfortable while preparing for another run at Team USA and the Women’s World Cup in 2015.

But as her club coach, Aaran Lines, pointed out, “I don’t think Abby Wambach has ever looked for the easy route.”

Wambach joined the Western New York Flash Tuesday for her first practice with the team. The club will begin its second season in the National Women’s Soccer League with a pair of April road games – April 13 against the Washington Spirit and April 19 against the Chicago Red Stars.

The Flash have some work to do after losing in the inaugural NWSL championship game on their home field, Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester. The loss ended the club’s streak of three straight championships in professional women’s soccer. Wambach, ever the competitor, wanted to return to Western New York and play for the franchise built by Joe Sahlen and his family.

“I could have just decided to stay in Portland and play for the Thorns but I’m back here because I’m a loyal person, and it matters to me that I finish what I started,” Wambach said. “I think that the Sahlens have put together so much opportunity for women’s sports here in this area, the state and the country that it’s just the right thing to do.

“I think we’ve got a lot of unfinished business to attend to, and it’s going to take a lot to get from here to that championship game, but I know that we’re willing to put in the effort and the work and hopefully we can get there.”

The Rochester native has been the face of U.S. women’s soccer since joining the national team in 2003. With 167 career international goals, she is a veteran of three World Cups and two Olympic Games — and at least three different incarnations of women’s professional soccer leagues in America.

Lured by the opportunity to play for her hometown, she arrived to play for the Flash last season. But while the club plays its games in downtown Rochester, it trains and is based in Elma. The split wasn’t exactly what Wambach expected.

“The travel becomes a little bit difficult, in terms of the whole travel to the game and traveling back afterwards and not living in the market where we’re playing where people can see us walking down the streets and bump into us at the restaurants around town,” Wambach said. “Those are the little things, the grassroots marketing that you hope that you can achieve.

“I appreciate the Sahlens and everything they’ve done for this franchise and putting Western New York on the map for women’s soccer but I think for myself in terms of my family and being so close to Rochester, I thought I would have been going to Rochester a lot more to hang out but you know we train every day. So I’m in Buffalo for the most part.”

Wambach, along with teammate Carli Lloyd, will miss some Flash games for national team duties as the United States prepares for next year’s World Cup.

The other major news out of Flash camp came when starting goalkeeper Adrianna Franch tore her right ACL. She will miss the season. The Flash signed Lydia Williams, the national team keeper for Australia, to fill Franch’s role.