On Saturday, U.S. Soccer ended an era as it officially closed the door on the legendary 99ers. In a small, humble ceremony before the United States women’s national team took on England, Christie Rampone said farewell to the team and fans.
Her retirement ceremony came almost 20 years to the day after her first cap. On February 28, 1997, Christie Rampone, then Pearce, took the field for the USWNT for the first time in a match against Australia. There was no way that the basketball player-turned-soccer player could have known on that day that she would embark on one of the most storied careers in USWNT history.
Over the course of her career, she was on five World Cup rosters, winning in 1999 and 2015. She has named to four Olympic rosters and won three gold medals and a silver. With 311 caps, she is the second most-capped player in the game, topped only by fellow 99er Kristine Lilly who had 354. She has played against and alongside some of the top players in the world, including Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Christine Sinclair and Marta.
“Christie, she’s a legend. She’s the best,” said Carli Lloyd, who inherited the captain’s armband from Rampone. “She has led this team for so long and had a long history with this team. It’s been just an honor to be able to play with her and get to know her for so many years. She’s just one of the most awesomest players to play with, you know, such a champion.”
But for a player like Rampone, it’s not the fame, glory or medals that she said she will remember most from her international career.
“There are so many great memories,” she said. “I think for the most part it's really being in the locker room with the girls and going through those good times and bad times and persevering through, you know, those tough games where you don't think you're going to bounce back and you come back.”
For fans used to players who tout themselves as the best ever, Rampone’s response may seem unusual, but it’s pretty typical of the reserved center back who served as team captain for seven years, ever since then coach Pia Sundhage tapped her to wear the armband in 2008. She herself said at times she struggled to balance herself with the team, often putting the team’s needs before her own, occasionally even to the detriment of her game.
When asked what she hoped her legacy would be, Rampone cited that, saying, “I think just putting the team before myself and the consistency of transitioning from a forward to a defender and learning from the best in the world. And kind of trying to transition that into as the latter part of my years as being that leader and hopefully being the best leader I could be for those girls and kind of handing that off now and seeing them still excel.”
Becky Sauerbrunn, who often lined up next to Rampone on the U.S. back line, said that Rampone embodied the captaincy, but it was also her character that made a huge difference to the team on and off the field.
“My first cap was right next to her and it was like we had been playing for years, and that’s kind of what Christie was all about,” Sauerbrunn said. “She was just so steady. You know, it didn’t matter if we were up four goals or down four goals, you always knew what you were going to get from her and it was always reliable and steady.”
Although the two never played together, Rose Lavelle, who took the field for the first time in a USWNT kit just minutes after Rampone’s retirement ceremony, was with the team for Rampone’s last training camp in December 2015.
“I think she is such a great leader and such an awesome inspiration,” Lavelle said. “It was so awesome being out there and seeing her be sent off and seeing her have such a huge standing ovation and such a huge reaction. I think she has grown the women’s game and I think her contributions to the game are something that can’t be matched.”
For Rampone, she’s simply giving back what was given to her when she first started out. A self-proclaimed “young, bright-eyed girl who had no idea what she was doing” when she first joined the team, Rampone said Kristine Lilly, Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy, Carla Overbeck and Joy Fawcett were some of the biggest influences on her as a player.
She also credits them with showing her that she could have her playing career and her family. The consummate “soccer mom,” Rampone took her daughters, Rylie and Reece, on the road with the USWNT as often as possible, including onto the field for her retirement ceremony Saturday night.
“You know, they started, I would say, from three months on traveling with the girls, and they were a huge part of it,” she said, “so I just wanted them to feel the success of such a great career, the longevity and knowing that I'm in a good place and doing it together 'cause now it's on to coaching them and being there for them.”
Maybe one day her experience coaching her daughters--not to mention winning the Women’s Professional Soccer Championship as a player-coach for Sky Blue FC in 2009--will result in a coaching job with the USWNT, although Rampone knows it won’t happen overnight.
“You've given so much to the game, why not give back to the coaching aspect?” Rampone asked. “Like I’ve said, as a defender and somebody that's seen the game on both sides, as an attacker at one point and converting to a defender, I'd love to give back and coach and get involved. Obviously as an assistant to start, but I'm going to get my feet wet and hopefully one day be a head coach.”
Whether that will be with the USWNT one day or not remains to be seen, but Rampone said she and U.S. Soccer would be having conversations in the future to discuss just that. But for now, she’s perfectly content with where she is in her life.
“It's been great, you know, 'cause I feel like I gave everything I could to the game. I’m very complete and satisfied in how I played and how much I gave,” Rampone said. “I was just really fortunate that I was able to play this amazing game for so long.”