US Olympic soccer captain is last ’99 holdover

She is the last remaining link to the team that put women’s

soccer on Page One, the U.S. squad that won the World Cup at the

Rose Bowl in 1999.

She now has a different name on her jersey, although her

teammates still call her by the old one. She also has two kids in

tow and takes them everywhere the team goes, having inherited the

unofficial role of national soccer mom.

Her other title is captain, although she’s among the quieter

players on the team. She’s played in 262 games for her country –

fourth on the all-time U.S. list – but she’s not a household name

like Mia, Hope, Abby, Brandi or Foudy.

Christie Rampone, all of 37 years old, runs the defense and

remains in charge of the psyche of U.S. team that has qualified for

the quarterfinals of the Olympic tournament. The Americans wrap up

group play on Tuesday against North Korea.

”I don’t talk that much. But when I speak, it means

something,” she said with a laugh.

Don’t expect Rampone to score goals – she has only four in her

international career – but she calls the shots for the back four

and keeps a close eye on the pulse of a talented, personality-heavy

team.

”Best captain I’ve ever had,” coach Pia Sundhage said.

”Better than I was as a captain. She leads by example, and she

respects the players around her. She has the timing of saying the

right thing at that right moment.”

Rampone was known by her maiden name, Pearce, on the 1999 team

and kept it on her jersey until 2004, three years after she was

married. Her teammates to this day still call her ”Pearce” and

”Pearcy,” a reminder of her link to the days of Mia Hamm and

Co.

”It’s awesome to be a part of both generations,” Rampone said,

”being part of that amazing team and what they stood for on and

off the field, and learning from great leaders. And now just being

part of this next generation and the things that they’re teaching

me as an older player has been fun – just to instill some of the

qualities that the old team had, but yet shape the personalities of

this team.”

Rampone is the only mother on the team, and daughters Rylie (6)

and Reece (2) are the squad’s unofficial live-in groupies. During a

road trip earlier this year, the team staged a ”Reece race” – a

tongue-in-cheek contest to determine which player was her

favorite.

”She’s the heart of the team, for sure,” midfielder Megan

Rapinoe said. ”Captains are usually more outspoken and probably

more of a dominate personality, but she’s just kind of cool, calm

and collected back there.”

Rampone has been captain since 2008, but she has some help at

these Olympics. Sundhage designated gabby veteran forward Abby

Wambach as co-captain after last year’s World Cup, although Rampone

still wears the captain’s armband.

”They have almost opposing styles,” defender Amy LePeilbet

said. ”But it’s a good complement because Pearcy calms us, lets us

know what we need to focus on, what’s important. And Abby’s that

energy, gets us going, that enthusiasm that comes from Abby. It’s a

good combination.”

Rampone said she doesn’t mind sharing duties with Wambach,

especially if it means deferring the spotlight.

”She likes to do more of the media stuff than I do,” Rampone

said, ”so I have her do more of the talking and I do more of the

behind the scenes.”

It’s more of an instinct job than a regulatory one. No one will

mistake the team’s training camps for the NFL version, usually run

by a dictatorial coach.

”I’m not a big fan to create rules. I don’t have a rule,”

Sundhage said. ”I told her if you create rules, and if you break

the rules, I have to punish you. I don’t like that. But there are a

lot of unwritten rules, and the players come up with the unwritten

rules. They make my life very easy and fun.”

Well, not always. Sundhage, Rampone and Wambach had to put out a

fire Sunday, meeting with Hope Solo after the outspoken goalkeeper

took to Twitter to criticize former U.S. team player Brandi

Chastain’s NBC commentary during these Olympics.

Sundhage said Rampone was instrumental in the meeting,

particularly because the coach doesn’t know much about Twitter.

Sundhage said Rampone has stressed the need to create a ”bubble”

around the team to cut down on distractions, something that was

re-emphasized with Solo.

Rampone initially felt these Olympics would be her last major

competition, but she’s reconsidering because she’s playing well and

still has the speed to chase down strikers on a counterattack.

There is the issue, however, of her daughters. Rylie recently

started kindergarten, making it harder to take her everywhere on

the road.

”The way I’m feeling, the way I’m playing, the way my body

feels, I feel I can definitely do more,” Rampone said. ”It’s just

a matter of taking everything into consideration with family,

travel, how much time this team is together. It’s a big commitment,

and it’s a lot more travel than it used to be.”

Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP