With Carli Lloyd preparing to play in her final international against the Korea Republic in St. Paul, Minn. Tuesday night, FrontRowSoccer.com figured it would be appropriate to look back on the last game by another U.S. women’s national team icon, Mia Hamm, on Dec. 8, 2004.

Mia Hamm: “Rarely do you get the chance to have people express think and feel about you. I had that today. You usually have that at weddings, funerals. It means so much, all these people who have touched my life in a positive way to have these feelings about me.” (Wade Jackson/YCJ Photo)

By Michael Lewis

BigAppleSoccer.com

CARSON, Calif. — For Mia Hamm, leaving the field at the Home Depot Center Stadium on Wednesday night, turned out to be the longest walk of her illustrious soccer career.

It also was her last.

One by one, each teammate on the U.S. national team gave Hamm a big hug after the public address announcer announced that University of North Carolina sophomore Heather O’Reilly would replace the superstar in the 81st minute of the U.S.’s 5-0 triumph over Mexico.

A teary-eyed Hamm trotted off the field and waved to the crowd of 15,549, who gave her a standing ovation before she was greeted by Mexican coach Leonardo Cuellar, U.S. coach April Heinrichs and her other teammates on the bench.

That closed the final chapter on her remarkable, 17-year career in which Hamm finished at 158 international goals — more than any other man or woman on this planet – while playing on two world championship teams, plus earning a pair of Olympic gold medals.

“Rarely do you get the chance to have people express think and feel about you,” Hamm said. “I had that today. You usually have that at weddings, funerals. It means so much, all these people who have touched my life in a positive way to have these feelings about me. I hope to continue to live up to their expectations and try to give one-tenth of what they have given to my life and make a difference to them.”

Hamm, along with retiring team captain and midfielder Julie Foudy and defender Joy Fawcett hung up their competitive cleats for good. Foudy experienced a similar goodbye three minutes later. Fawcett, recovering from recent back surgery, did not play, but was given a huge ovation when her name was announced.

“It’s hard to believe that it’s over,” Hamm said. “The fact that all the team came in and gave us a hug, Julie was crying, and I was crying. I tried to tell everyone thank you. We don’t say enough to each other. I’m extremely blessed. I really am. Everyone had a part in that, so thank you very much.”

Hamm started the match wearing her famous white No. 9 jersey with Hamm spelled out on the back. When she came out in the second half, Hamm wore Garciaparra on her back, in recognition of her husband, Chicago White Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. National team general manager Nils Krumins produced the new shirt and had Hamm wear it for the final 45 minutes.

As Hamm walked off the field, P.A. announcer called her “Mia Garciaparra.”

“It was a wonderful gesture,” Hamm said. “It meant a lot to me. Nomar and his family are very special. They give me so much joy in my life. To be able to celebrate our relationship, our marriage . . . on a day like this does so much for me, I think it’s a fitting tribute.”

It would have been quite appropriate had Hamm scored in her final and 274th game, but couldn’t. She certainly had her opportunities, including when she hit the crossbar from eight yards in the sixth minute.

Instead, she was a playmaker, setting up Aly Wagner and Abby Wambach for the first of each player’s two goals. Shannon Boxx also found the back of the net.

That was fine with her.

“I’m thankful I could play tonight,” said Hamm, who stayed a good hour after the match signing autographs while her fans shouted “Mia! Mia!”

“It was such an amazing environment,” she added. “I never played for personal accolades. Scoring’s fun, but it’s also fun to see your teammates enjoy what they’re doing. This was much of a celebration about why we all play the game. It’s because of the fans, our families and the players out here. They gave us everything they had. They did that again tonight.”