With the final seconds ticking down and the Americans on the verge of their earliest exit ever from the Women's World Cup, Abby Wambach kept waving her index finger at her teammates.

With the final seconds ticking down and the Americans on the verge of their earliest exit ever from the Women's World Cup, Abby Wambach kept waving her index finger at her teammates.

One chance, she screamed, all they needed was one chance.

When it came in the form of a left-footed cross from Megan Rapinoe, Wambach pounced. With one vicious whip of her head, she changed the course of this year's World Cup and sparked a nationwide frenzy rarely seen for women's sports.

Wambach's clutch performance at this summer's World Cup made her the clear choice for the 2011 Female Athlete of the Year, selected by members of The Associated Press. The U.S. forward received 65 of the 214 votes cast, while teammate Hope Solo (38) was a distant second and UConn basketball star Maya Moore (35) was third.

Wambach is the first individual soccer player — man or woman — to win one of the AP's annual sports awards, which began in 1931. The U.S. women's team won in 1999, when their World Cup triumph at the Rose Bowl transfixed the nation.

"We, as a team, did something that no team since Mia Hamm was able to do," Wambach told the AP. "Even the team that won the (Olympic) gold medal in 2008 wasn't able to inspire and get people excited about women's soccer. It goes to show you the impact drama can bring."

Wambach's four goals in Germany give her 13 in three World Cup appearances. That's the most by an American, topping Michelle Akers by one, and puts her third on the all-time World Cup scoring list behind Brazil's Marta and Germany's Birgit Prinz. The 31-year-old ranks third on the U.S. career scoring list with 125 goals, trailing only Mia Hamm (158) and Kristine Lilly (130).