Christie Rampone: Ready to experience Olympics at home with family

rampone 2016

By TOM SLATER

When the Rio 2016 Olympics begin and the United States takes on New Zealand in its opening match in Group G, Christie Rampone won’t be anywhere near South America.

She’ll be at home watching with her family. Like me. And you. And most everybody else in the United States who is rooting for the Americans to take home another Gold Medal.

And that will be the first time since the 1999 Women’s World Cup that she won’t be with the United States squad for a major tournament.

“I’ll be watching in my living room and cheering them on, just like everybody else,” Rampone said after a recent training session. “I’ve been to the Olympics and this time I’ll experience it in a different light. I’ll be rooting for our girls and I know they’re going to win the gold. They just have to prove it every day on the field.”

Rampone has been a constant on the United States Women’s National Team pool since 1997. She was a striker-turned-defender by former coach Tony DeCiccco in her first national team pool. A small-school superstar that nobody outside of the Shore Conference knew. The shy kid from Monmouth University who was on a part-basketball, part-soccer scholarship.

Today, she’s the ultimate soccer mom; a role model for all athletes — not just soccer players and not just females. A leading example on how to lead, how to act — and how to play

She sat on the bench when the USA won the World Cup on United States soil in 1999. That’s when Brandi Chastain took her shirt off after left-footing a penalty kick against China in the Rose Bowl. She was also on the bench in Vancouver when Carli Lloyd lifted a shot from midfield to complete her hat trick in a 5-2 pasting of Japan to win yet another World Cup.

In between, she built up a soccer resume for club and country that cannot be compared. Rampone won three Olympic gold medals to go along with the two World Cup titles. She is the second-most capped player in the world and is the oldest player to appear in a World Cup. Rampone is the last player to be active on all three women’s professional leagues. She was a founding member of the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) New York Power and has played for Sky Blue in the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) and the current National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).  She was player-coach for Sky Blue when they won the WPS title in 2008.

Her international career began winding down last December when she came off the World Cup victory tour early to get her knee cleaned out. That recovery took longer than expected, and even though coach Jill Ellis kept telling her she would vie for a spot when she was healthy, Rampone knew it was time.

“Jill gave me the opportunity to come back but I wasn’t there,” she said. “For international play, I wasn’t ready. And just knowing what it takes to make an Olympic roster — double practices and all that — it would be a challenge. When you’re a starter you can take a day off to recover. But there’s no way you can stay off the field to rest because you’re trying to make a team.

“Rampone said the decision wasn’t that difficult because of the physical — and mental — issues involved in recovering from injury. And her decision wasn’t just about herself.

“It was more about the team as it was for me,” she said. “I didn’t want to be a distraction. I didn’t want to be there on the sidelines and be a distraction for that team trying to prepare for the Olympics.”

And there’s no been no second thoughts.

“I’ve been on the team for 19 years,” she said. “I’ve been through the ups and downs; the injuries, the successes, the Olympic gold medals and being a mom. They say you know when it’s time and I’ve been blessed and fortunate to know when it’s time to step down and not to have it taken from you.”

Rampone hinted that she may make an appearance again in red, white and blue in some type of farewell game (“There’s been talk, but I’ll have to see if that’s something I want.”), but right now her concentration is on Sky Blue.

Here, she relishes being Captain Sky Blue — working with a ridiculously young team, surrounded by 20-somethings at every turn. At the Olympic break, the New Jersey side is on the cusp of an NWSL playoff spot with five matches to go.

“It has been great,” she said. “I am enjoying this so much. They call me Mom. They’re sponges. They’re open minded and want to learn and get better. They came in really quiet and not communicating that much. They have the skill set they have the anticipation. It’s just talking. And it takes a while not just back four but for a team.”

While the United States squad is full of stars, Sky Blue has been doing things under the radar. They have Rampone and United States international Kelley O’Hara and then the ultra-hyper Tasha Kai. And the rest are newcomers — first and second year players with a few trialists thrown together. The experts scoffed, especially when Sky Blue didn’t have a coach until a day or two before the NWSL College Draft.

Now the joke’s on everyone else.

“Nobody was picking us for the top four,” Rampone said. “So it’s been great. There’s no egos. Everyone appreciates the effort we all put in each day and it’s showing on the field. We’ve become a very tight unit on and off the field. We’re all on the same page and that is what really helps. We all understand what we need to do for each other and for the team.”

Rampone, 41, is one of five NWSL players to have played every minute this summer. She doesn’t plan on slowing down soon, either.

But beyond the NWSL season — which hopefully includes playoffs — she has no concrete plans.

“I’m taking it day by day,” she said. “I don’t want to think too far ahead. I’m just enjoying it. I’m having fun, enjoying the game and being around the team — like it was when we all started playing.”

And it doesn’t get better than that.


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