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Thursday, July 14, 2011
Christie Rampone inspires younger teammates

By Michelle Smith

DUSSELDORF, Germany -- "I don't know how she does it."

It's a compliment of the highest order to any working mother who juggles the roles of her life. It must mean she's making it look easy, right?

But when U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe is talking about teammate and U.S. captain Christie Rampone, she means it. She really doesn't know.

"We'll be on a trip and normally she brings the kids," Rapinoe said. "We'll have a hard training, and when I have a hard training I go home and pass out on my bed and I just want to escape, and she's taking care of two kids. They are a little older now, but for a while she was taking care of a baby and a 3-year-old.

"I don't know how she does it physically, even though she's probably the fittest player on our team. I just don't know how she juggles it all. She's a superwoman."

While, in fact, the world is full of "superwomen," Rampone finds herself deservedly in the spotlight as the U.S. team prepares for its first World Cup championship match since 1999.

The title match against Japan will be the last World Cup match of Rampone's career.

But her legacy with the team extends far beyond her ability to raise her children while raising her game to the sport's highest levels.

At 36, Rampone is the oldest player on the U.S. roster by two years and will become the oldest to appear in a World Cup final. She has moved into fourth-place on USA's all-time caps list, past Joy Fawcett, with 240.

She has spent more than a third of her life in the program and now finds herself traveling and living alongside players who are barely graduated from college.

Rampone is the last remaining member of the defining 1999 team. She was a reserve defender on that team, not one of its shining stars. She is now an integral part of the American squad on the back line and a team leader.

"I respect her tremendously as a captain and a player, but also as a person," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage told espnW before the tournament began last month. "She means a lot and when you talk about bringing out the best performances from each player on the team, she's the one that does that."

Rampone is not in the same place she was in 1999, even as the U.S. team has returned to this hallowed place with a series of gutty performances. On Wednesday against France, Rampone had a key defensive play with a deflection that saved a potential goal that would have given France the lead in the 64th minute. She also had a nice, and rare, run upfield that created a good chance for Abby Wambach.

But mostly, Rampone is directing and guiding the Americans' back line, the final defense before keeper Hope Solo.

"My role has changed," Rampone said. "It was inspiring then to learn from those great leaders, and now I am in the role of a leader and trying to help this team win this Cup. To win a Cup at the start of my career and winning one now would be amazing."

Rampone has joked that she's out of step with the fashion choices of her younger teammates and doesn't always know who is singing the songs they have on their iPods. But there is no generation gap on the field.

Rampone is playing as well as ever on the U.S. back line, which has been tested throughout this tournament, particularly in the past two games against Brazil and France in which the U.S. was outshot 41-25 and 25-11, respectively. But the U.S. has come out of both games with the win.

"She brings everything to us," Rapinoe said. "All of her experience, being in those pressure moments. But it's more than that. Look at the way she's playing right now, it's inspired. She's been amazing, an absolute rock for us."

Watching Rampone run down Marta in the Brazil game, Rapinoe said, is something she'll never forget.

"Watching her on a dead sprint like that …" Rapinoe said. "You couldn't ask for a better leader. She's my hero, a role model for me."

Rampone is not the first mother to have played on the U.S. national team. Fawcett had three daughters during her time with the team. Carla Overbeck had a child and returned to play with the team.

Rampone said she has followed the example set by both former players when it came to managing her dual roles.

Rampone's daughters are 6 years and 16 months. They are at home "cheering mom from afar," Rampone said. "You know, there's Skype."

Four more days and there won't be any more need for video Internet chats. Rampone will be home. Will she be a World Cup champion for the second time in her career, a bookend to her experience as a young player in 1999?

Rampone said she will play one more year. She would like to remain with the program through the 2012 Olympic tournament in London.

"I have just been taking it all in, enjoying the whole journey. I know it's my last World Cup, but I'm not going to dwell on the fact that it's coming to an end. I'm leading by example and just trying to compose everybody. The tournament is such a short time, and you prepare so much," Rampone said.

"I'm here for the girls. I was inspired by the old girls, the veterans in '99, and now the young kids are inspiring me to get through this and win this one."