Christie Rampone quietly ended her national team career, starting with a polite withdrawal from a USWNT camp last summer. Rampone said she didn’t feel one hundred percent at the time, making a decision not just for herself, but for the team. It was peak Rampone: courteous, realistic, and for the greater good regardless of her own benefit or ego. Then in early February of this year, US Soccer president Sunil Gulati officially confirmed the retirement while announcing that the federation would honor Rampone during the SheBelieves Cup.
The ceremony took place before the kickoff of United States vs. England. It was simple and short, with Rampone being presented with a jersey alongside her two daughters. Abby Wambach was also on hand to congratulate her on a nearly unparalleled career.
Rampone reflected on her career at halftime, a career that involved 311 caps, three gold and one silver Olympic medals, and two World Cup wins.
“I feel like I gave everything I could to the game,” she said. “I’m very complete and satisfied in how I played and how much I gave, so it’s kind of nice to be able to celebrate with Abby and Heather O’Reilly and Nicole Barnhart up there.”
Rampone knew it was time, though. “After that last knee surgery I knew was struggling a little bit but I was able to put in a different role for them through that  World Cup,” she said. “And I realized okay, now it’s time to wrap it up and just play with the league and enjoy myself and help the youth. Because I’m someone that when I’m out there and talking, communicating, I’m trying to elevate somebody else’s game around me moreso than mine.”
Becky Sauerbrunn is one of those players who came up learning at Rampone’s feet. “I just feel very fortunate that I got so many years to play with her,” she said after the game. “My first cap was right next to her and it was like we’d been playing for years and that’s kind of what Christie was all about. She was just so steady. 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 was just reliable and steady.”
Rampone didn’t start off as a central defender; she was attending Monmouth on a basketball scholarship and was also a forward for their soccer team. But then-WNT head coach Tony DiCicco tried her out as a defender during her first call-up in 1997. The rest is history.
“When I stepped on I was this young bright-eyed girl that had no idea what she’s doing, “ said Rampone. “A forward converted to defender, and got established there and changed in the role of becoming a starter and not off the bench.”
Rampone credited some of her success to learning to find a balance between her multiple roles, whether that was team captain or mother. “As I became more confident I became that leader that would be able to talk and have that open door policy with the girls,” she said. “You’re on the road a lot and you see us on the field, but there’s a lot of downtime, a lot of things that go on in that locker room and at the hotel that need to be taken care of. So I think being a mom and being able to have the girls come to me, talk to me, have understandings of just life, helped me elevate my career.”
“For as long as I’ve played with her she was always the captain,” said Sauerbrunn. “And she, on a team of extroverts, was very introverted, but everything she said carried such weight. And Captain America, I mean she did everything on the field. She did everything off the field. That’s the perfect name for her and I don’t think there’s ever going to be another one.”
The game is very different now from where it was in 1997, and Rampone has been there every step of the way. Now it’s time to pass the baton and watch a new generation integrate into the team, something that was on display that night as young players like Mal Pugh and Rose Lavelle showed off their skills.
“It’s huge to have a tournament like this,” said Rampone of the SheBelieves Cup. “We have the best teams coming here to the States and playing in these games. You know, every four years it’s changing and you can see these teams are starting young and rebuilding and developing. The game is at a higher level.... There’s more soccer sense behind it than the athletes that we used to be.”
Rampone was up on the WNT being able to cope with the new challenges presented by a new era of soccer. “Not only do they have the challenge of new faces, new cycle, a new formation, but they’re playing in front of big crowds, so you have that pressure too because early on we weren’t playing front of big crowds until you get to an Olympics or World Cup. And then you’re almost in shock a little bit trying to be able to not only play, but be able to hear teammates and have that pressure. But I think what makes this team so great is we do well under pressure. We love the pressure.... I think the girls, and the young girls, are showing that and proving that and getting better and better every day.”
The team is indeed in good hands, with Sauerbrunn crediting Rampone as her example. “Personally, she’s kind of passed the torch to me, as far as trying to be the leader in the back line, carrying the weight that she had and being able to be reliable and dependable and someone that players can look up to. That’s what I’m going to try to do.”
“It’s so exciting to see such new faces, new growth,” said Rampone, “Because the game is evolving and changing and you need that, you know, different personalities on the team.”
Of course, Rampone played with some talented names herself, and she credited many of her teammates with helping her become a better player and a leader. “Kristine Lilly, Brandi Chastain [helped me]. I was a forward converted to a defender, not knowing what I was doing,” she said. “Basketball player converted to a soccer player. Those are the fun times, learning through your mistakes. And then Tony DiCicco allowing me to make those mistakes and continuing to have that confidence in me that I could get there. And then it was the transitioning into a different role and being a consistent starter and a captain and trying to help everbody else around me. But [Julie] Foudy and Carla Overbeck and Joy Fawcett were a huge help.”
Rampone also credited the WNT’s deep attacking pool for testing her. “All the different personalized forwards coming at me with Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Tiffeny Milbrett, Mia [Hamm], all those players were so different. That made me a better player.”
What’s next for Rampone? “I think more discussions with US Soccer and seeing at what level they may want me to come in on the coaching side,” she said. In typical Rampone fashion, she was humble about this new era in her soccer career. “I know you can’t just step in and be this brilliant coach. Not all the best players are great coaches but I think being a center back, seeing the game in front of you and having to communicate so much and organize, makes centers backs convert into pretty good coaches so we’ll see that next step.... I would say I’m doing it on the youth side right now. Hopefully breaking in. I do understand that I need to start somewhere, I just don’t want to start at the top.... Gotta get my feet wet, and then hopefully someday be a head coach.”
Rampone will also play another season with her club, Sky Blue FC. Wherever she goes after that, surely she will bring with her the same determination and class that were the hallmarks of her illustrious career.