Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Veteran Christie Rampone is U.S. team's unquestioned leader

A chill wind blew off the Delaware River as the U.S. women's soccer team ran onto PPL Park's field Thursday evening to prepare for its CONCACAF Women's Championship 2014 semifinal match with Mexico a night later.

U.S. national team captain Christie Rampone. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)
U.S. national team captain Christie Rampone. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)Read more

A chill wind blew off the Delaware River as the U.S. women's soccer team ran onto PPL Park's field Thursday evening to prepare for its CONCACAF Women's Championship 2014 semifinal match with Mexico a night later.

Instinctively, as if they were students drawn to her for wisdom, several of the American players gathered around Christie Rampone.

Rampone, a 39-year-old New Jersey mother of two, is the aged guru of the U.S. squad, which can guarantee itself a spot in the 2015 World Cup with a victory Friday night.

She is the last link on the team, currently ranked No. 1 in the world, to the 1999 World Cup champions who so memorably opened America's eyes to the women's sport.

The American captain, Rampone has competed in 299 games for the United States. On Friday night she will become just the second player in the sport's history, man or woman, to play 300 games for his or her country, a total that includes four World Cups and four Olympics. The first to play 300 was former teammate Kristine Lilly, who played a world-record 352 games from 1987 to 2010.

With all that experience, in both living and playing, Rampone is an invaluable asset, able to ease her young teammates' jitters, provide strategic and personal advice, listen to their complaints.

"They definitely look to me when times are tough and things may not be going so well," she said. "But I think this younger generation comes in with more confidence and a little more experience in playing in bigger games. I probably don't have to lead as much" as in the past.

"But when the time comes, the door is open, and they feel comfortable coming and talking to me."

Maybe the best thing Rampone can do before the 7:30 p.m. match with Mexico is remind them that at this exact stage of qualifying for the 2011 World Cup, the Mexicans shocked the Americans.

"I don't think I'll ever forget that game," she said. "As an athlete you remember the tough times. It's always in the back of my head. We have to make sure we come out in the right mind-set."

The veteran defender's mind-set hasn't changed in her 17 years with the American national team. It's why the mother of daughters, 9 and 4, decided to come back for one more attempt at hoisting the World Cup, something the Americans haven't done since '99.

"That's all of our ambitions," she said.

After the United States won a third consecutive gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in London, Rampone briefly considered retirement. She'd been found to have Lyme disease two years earlier, and her children were still young.

"But I just felt like I was still able to compete at a high level, so why not come back?" she said.

U.S. coach Jill Ellis and the rest of the Americans are happy she did. Rampone's experience and wisdom, they point out, mean that she's much more than a physical presence.

"Christie is a champion, on and off the field," Abby Wambach said. "She's just naturally an awesome person. She's Captain America to me."

She's been exactly that, the American captain, since 2008. During that time, the United States has compiled an 88-8-13 international record.

So far in this tightly condensed qualifying tournament, the United States has won its three games by a combined 12-0 score, topping Trinidad and Tobago, 1-0; Guatemala, 5-0; and Haiti, 6-0.

Friday's other semifinal, at 4:30 p.m., will pit Trinidad and Tobago against Costa Rica. The top three finishers in this weekend's qualifying advance to the World Cup. Even the fourth-place finisher will have a shot, through the tournament's playoff system.

Rampone's long, successful stay at the top of her sport couldn't have been a surprise to those who played with and against her in high school and college.

At Point Pleasant Boro High, she played four sports - soccer, basketball, track, and field hockey - and was the first female athlete in New Jersey history to lead her conference in scoring in three sports.

She moved on to Monmouth University, not a traditional soccer power, where she scored 79 goals and also starred as the basketball team's point guard.

It's been the kind of career that would look good with a 2015 World Cup title as an exclamation point.

And that goal might seem more attainable if the Americans can exact some revenge on Mexico. To do that, they'll have to adhere to the lengthy to-do list the determined Rampone has prepared.

"We have to make sure we are communicating," she said. "We have to make sure that we're organized and decisive. We've got to have good tempo. We've got to make sure we stick to the game plan the coaches have drawn up and not get too frustrated if we're not scoring. We've got to have good body language out there and deal with whatever comes our way."

Just beyond the illuminated stadium, the Delaware River moved swiftly past. And on the field, preparing herself for a 300th international appearance and observing her teammates, Old Lady Soccer just kept rolling along.