“We went to the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 with Christie Rampone as captain. And because of what she has to offer, and how she handles herself on and off the pitch, she’s the best captain I’ve ever had.” This verdict, which came from USA coach Pia Sundhage when announcing her provisional squad for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™, underlines the respect the Swedish-born supremo has for the 35-year-old defender.
That sentiment prevails throughout the Stars and Stripes’ set-up, with the vastly experienced Rampone often hailed as an example to follow. Indeed, Germany 2011 will be the veteran’s fourth FIFA Women’s World Cup, a record stretching back to the USA’s victorious 1999 campaign on home soil.
She is now the only player in the current USA squad to have played in that competition, albeit just for 30 minutes of their final group game against Korea DPR under her maiden name of Christie Pearce. “This is going to be my last World Cup and I want it to be really special. It’d be fantastic to claim a winners’ medal because it’d be like coming full circle, finishing back where I started,” she told FIFA.com.
“It’s very special being part of this team, with the baggage and experience that I’ve got,” continued Rampone, who has two daughters. “Personally, I set myself the target of being in tip-top shape for the challenge ahead. Being part of the process is what I enjoy most, following the path we take each day and the growing sense of togetherness in the side. It’s this shared experience that inspires and motivates me to keep playing football.”
USA also boast other battle-hardened performers in midfielder Shannon Boxx and forward Abby Wambach, who are both set to appear in their third FIFA Women’s World Cup, but Rampone believes the squad’s real strength lies in its harmonious blend of youth and experience: “Among the youngsters breaking into the team, there are some really big talents.
“I think there’s a perfect balance between them and the veterans. We’ve got players who are very skilful on the ball, who know how to dictate the tempo of the game and have great leadership skills too. And the best thing is that I’m learning new things from them all every day. For someone like me who’s been around a while, that’s really something.”
‘The way we play will define us’
Intriguingly, however, the No1 side in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking were the last team to book their passage to this summer’s global showpiece. “There are people outside the squad who seem to want to pile even more pressure on us than we do ourselves, simply because we only qualified at the last minute and not in the way we would’ve wanted,” said Rampone.
“But it’s something that the team have taken on board and analysed, so now we can reflect back on it calmly,” continued the player, referring to the play-off win over Italy that finally secured a Germany 2011 berth. “Then in the Algarve Cup we had a great get-together, we did our jobs really well. We’ve shown how strong we are and well, now’s the time to stop talking and analysing things and focus on playing. The way we play will define who we are.”
En route to winning said competition in March on Portuguese soil, USA players demonstrated an impressive playing style and a strong sense of mutual understanding. “The team’s progressing in the right way when it comes to tackling the challenge of the World Cup. As players, our belief in our style of play has been strengthened and that’s been evident in our performances. You can even notice that during our training sessions,” said Rampone, who then went on to outline areas where the squad can still improve.
“We need to gel even more out on the pitch. I think that at an individual level, all the players are on top form, highly motivated and giving their best. So, one of the challenges we have is to prepare ourselves mentally as a team and work on our communication out on the field. That’s because a team can’t win a World Cup by playing as individuals.”
Currently playing her trade for MagicTalk SC/Washington Freedom, Rampone is already eyeing a future in coaching once she hangs up her boots. It is therefore with a clinical eye that the 1999 world champion gives her insight of USA coach Sundhage, as the conversation draws to a close: “Pia is a great teacher, she’s incredible.
“She’s had a great career and she’s given us a more global, more international perspective on the game. In the USA we’re physically very strong but she’s made a huge contribution from a technical point of view and in terms of helping us to really understand football. She’s doing a great job towards making us the best team in the world once more.”