HARRISON, N.J. -- Abby Wambach is unlike any other striker in American women's soccer history. At 5 feet 11 inches, Wambach is a physical anomaly and a tactical wonder. Her skill and size have turned her into an unstoppable force. Always a looming presence in the penalty area, Wambach is a threat to score at any moment.
Entering Thursday's game at Red Bull Arena against South Korea, the 33-year-old Wambach needed three goals to break the all-time international scoring record of 158 held by Mia Hamm. Less than 30 minutes into a 5-0 United States win, she had that history-making hat trick. She even added a fourth goal shortly before halftime.
''I don't think about how I sit in history and the books,'' Wambach said. ''At the end of the day tomorrow, the sun comes up and I still have to keep working on my game to get better. I think that's what the best athletes do; they don't dwell on their championships or records. As soon as you win one, all you want to do is find something new and move toward that.''
The record-breaking goal came off a corner kick. Midfielder Megan Rapinoe crossed the ball into the box, and Wambach leapt and headed it past South Korean goalkeeper Kim Jungmi in the 29th minute.
Wambach ran to the right corner, from where the ball had deftly arrived, and celebrated. Rapinoe leapt into her arms, and the entire squad, including players from the bench, surrounded her. The announced crowd of 18,961 cheered loudly.
''Fairy tale is probably a very good word to describe it,'' Wambach said.
Play was momentarily stopped while Wambach was given the ball. South Korean defender Jeong Younga, either unaware that a record had been broken or in no mood to celebrate her opponent's accomplishment, grabbed the ball from Wambach and tried to bring it to the center of the field to restart play. No South Korean player acknowledged or congratulated Wambach.
After the ball was taken, Wambach simply shrugged. Eventually she was given the ball, and a new ball was used to begin play.
''I don't think they understood what was going on,'' Wambach said. ''I got the ball. End of story.''
Hamm said in a statement: ''I'm just so proud of her. Just watching those four goals, that's what she is all about. She fights for the ball, she's courageous and she never gives up. Her strength and perseverance is what makes her so great, and it's what defenders and opposing teams fear.''
Almost from the start, it appeared the Americans' intent Thursday was to feed Wambach the ball. Wambach towered over all the South Korean defenders.
There was an urgency to get Wambach the record-breaking mark. The United States does not play again until late September. During that time, Wambach will play for her National Women's Soccer League team, the Western New York Flash.
Wambach, who has been often overshadowed by Hamm, and even by Alex Morgan from the current team, began to get her share of acclaim in the months leading up to the record, becoming a national figure with numerous endorsements.
Shortly after pregame warm-ups, Wambach sprinted to the locker room as thousands of young girls shrieked in admiration. She also received the loudest ovation during the introductions. She was cheered once again when she was substituted out of the match in the 59th minute.
Someday, the 23-year-old Morgan may well become the great American striker and may even threaten Wambach's record. But for now, there is no goal scorer in history quite like Wambach.
PHOTO: Abby Wambach scoring one of her four first-half goals Thursday. She broke Mia Hamm's record of 158 international goals. (PHOTOGRAPH BY AL BELLO/GETTY IMAGES)