Time and again Christie Rampone showed she was head and shoulders ahead of the opposition. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)

By Michael Lewis

Front Row Soccer Editor

U.S. Soccer will honor Christie Rampone prior to the kickoff of the American women’s match against England at the SheBelieves Cup at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. Saturday.

The second-most capped player in the history of international women’s soccer (311) Rampone played her final international match Sept. 20, 2015, ending a remarkable 19-year career. That included two Women’s World Cup championships (1999 and 2015) and three Olympic gold medals (12004, 2008 and 2012) and a silver one as well (2000).

She still plays with Sky Blue FC in the National Women’s Soccer League as Point Pleasant, N.J. native plans to embark on her 11th professional season next month.

Prior to the 2015 Women’s World Cup, U.S. head coach Jill Ellis marveled at Rampone, who turned 40 during the tournament.

“I’ve seen Christie in a daily training environment, going through the battery of fitness testing and she stood tall,” she said. “I think the physical piece is still there for her and certainly the mental piece. It’s a tremendous credit to her, not just to her mental strength, but her professionalism that she can take care of her body physically. Then she’s doing a handful on the field. I wouldn’t pick a player if I didn’t feel that they would go and perform on the field. She’s earned it.”

Two years ago I did a series of stories about Rampone for several publications and websites. Here is the full question and answer I did with her prior to the Women’s World Cup.

The interview stands up quite well because it captures the essence of Christie Rampone — the player, the woman, the mother and the person.

Did you really think you would wind up playing this long?

Rampone: I never even expected to play at this level at all. Growing up and not being in more of a higher-level club, then going to smaller to Division I schools, I never expected to play at this level, never expected to play this long. I think once I wrapped around the mental side of travel, the competition and the fitness side, getting my fitness up, it started to become more comfortable and I became more confident as the years went on. I was probably more of a late bloomer so I wanted to play as long as I possibly could. I’ve been lucky enough that I haven’t burned out.

You’ve got a national team, family, club team. You need to be able to organize things without driving yourself or other people crazy.

Some of my lifestyles. Since a young age, I played most of the sports. Constantly on the go. Now it’s my life as an adult. It’s kind of the same thing with the kids running around, making sure I do the right thing for myself. I have the club and trying to help lead this team. I think it’s just who I am. I’ve done it from a young age and it’s kind of all I know.

How did you get interested in soccer?

Soccer was that true first sport that you can play at such a young age. My sister played. I went to her games and I kind of followed in her footsteps. It was like, ‘This was such a great sport.” You’re running around and outside, you have your friends around you. It was the perfect sport to start with. I ventured into basketball and other sports. It was the first love.

I didn’t start playing basketball until I was older, until I could reach the rim. Basketball was my sport when I was younger … middle school, high school. That’s what I wanted to go to school for. That was my sport.

Did you have any soccer heroes?

The distractions of having a busy life, just going from one sport to the next, I actually never really got to slow down and pay attention to somebody else playing. I didn’t know Michelle [Akers] until my first time with the national team. They weren’t on television. You didn’t know about them. The 1996 Olympics wasn’t on TV, only the highlights of it. When I joined the team in ’97 I heard of their names, but I didn’t know who they were or how they played. Mia [Hamm] was a forward. Michelle was a midfielder/forward. But I didn’t know how they played soccer until I actually got to meet [them] and play on the same field.

You were a pretty damn good basketball player [in high school and Monmouth University].

I wasn’t bad. It was more of the athleticism, steal the ball. Probably 80 percent of my points were on layups, inside the paint.  It was just going crazy on defense, stealing the ball and running the court. That’s the way I loved to play the game.

How did you make the switch from basketball to soccer?

I didn’t feel like soccer actually choose me in the fact I got invited to a national team camp in ’97. I was done with soccer. My college career was done. Onto basketball. Got the invite. With a lot of convincing of the basketball coach, the athletic director, I went out to California and tried out. Went to a camp in January and I was fortunate to be with the team since.

It just changed your life considerably.

Oh, completely. My life was changed immediately. From never having to focus on one sport to trying to focus on one sport at the highest level. So, it was definitely a transition period to defender. I was a forward my entire career in soccer to becoming a defender right away. It was a lot of transition. It was very new, but at the same time it was very exciting. I had the ability to be at this level, but I’m not quite there yet. My finishing needs to be better, my touch needs to get better. I need to get focused on soccer and eliminate all the other sports so that I could be the best soccer player I could be.

Was there an intimidation factor?

For me, it was the fear of the unknown. I didn’t know what I was getting into, to be honest, because there was a not a lot of communication back then. My first meeting was the team going over the gold medal final in ’96 and having a highlight reel. Two minutes after it was over I was going into a camp with them after watching the highlight reel and being like WOW! It was overwhelming, intimidating playing with the best players in the world and why me? There were so many different emotions at that time.

Sometimes being humble is being better than overconfident.

Oh yeah, I sat back and I watched, observed, do what I needed to do and kept listening. It’s the best way to learn. I learned from my mistakes and that’s hard to do. For the most part you’re one of the better players in middle school, high school and college and then you step onto the field with all the best players, you definitely learn from them. You have to learn from your mistakes. Not everything is going your way. It was definitely an adjustment. You pick that up fast and embrace it and decided that was what I wanted to do. I put everything I had into it to making the team.

Eventually you became a regular.

I was very fortunate to be part of it and then just having two of the older players, two veterans, Carla [Overbeck] and Joy [Fawcett], allowed me to kind of have that extra time to build as a younger player and travel the world, get experience. Coming off the bench and getting some minutes and slowly getting into the starting lineup. And having good games and bad games and trying to get that consistency level. It was something that I adjusted and wanted to become a better player. That first year was shocking, eye-opening, learning a new position, learning a new role. It was just a lot of educating of myself on wanting to be a good player and to be around for a long time. It definitely was a great experience.

You moved from forward to defense.

It’s tough at the highest level.

What was the transition like? Did you use your knowledge as a forward to transition to defense?

I think it was combination of my forward ability, but also the basketball side kicked in as the defensive aspect of the game. Your form is different. … because the way I was confronting the forwards like I would in basketball but then you realize that your stance has to be different. Then you have to alter everything you learn on how the forwards are taking you on and you start learning the forwards’ tendencies. It’s a little bit of a mind game teaching your brain how to defend a little bit differently. Not like what I was in basketball, but just trying to take those instincts of what they may do with the ball and try to read it faster than they could read it.

Have you ever counted the countries you played against or played in?

I haven’t. … Kept old passports. … Olympics, Women’s World Cup. Algarve Cup.

How has the game changed through the years from 1997 to today?

I think the game is growing on the educational side, the players knowing the game better as well the fitness side on the technological piece on heart rate monitors GPS’s, knowing when to push and not to push. The fitness aspect is better and more knowledgeable for the soccer-specific, which allows the game to be faster. Players are more technical because they’re playing with their countries more and their clubs more. So they’re getting higher levels and 90 minutes more consistent than in the past. I think it’s the education of the coaches as well as your fitness coaches, your staff. There is so much more of that aspect. Knowing the other team has advanced the game to a higher level, which is great to see and what is what we wanted to see.

What have you learned to do to keep in shape?

For me, I did the same thing everyone else did in camp. There was no extra day off because of my age, no less sprinting because of age. It’s more about just the recovery piece for me. It’s more about getting my rest when I can. When you’re younger, you’re not thinking about rest. You’re coming back from a session and you’re back on your legs and you go out shopping and you’re just on your feet more. You’re [now] just more mindful of the recovery piece for the next day. You get a little bit smarter in that aspect. … You know when to sit back and when to push. The learning curve… That’s when the experience kicks off.

What sort of support have you gotten from your family? (daughters Rylie is 11 and Reece is seven).

They’re all through the process. They understand what mom is doing. They have grown up activities now. They’re in soccer, basketball. They have dance, gymnastics. They’re pretty active. They like to see mom, but only for a couple of days. Obviously with the technology with FaceTime, there’s a way to see each other on the same day, although we’re not in the same space or country.

Where do you put winners’ medals?

I put them close enough that I bring them with me on appearances and show people. That’s part of the experience and the success I’ve had. The medals are beaten up and the ribbons are shredded just because I want people to have the same experience to the extent I had the experience of seeing the medal and share the stories. They’re definitely not in a bank put away, definitely in a safe close by.

And your runners-up medals?

Of course, that’s a learning message as well to kids. I don’t leave the silver medal behind. At the same time, it was part of my career and part of it makes you stronger and builds because ultimately the goal was a gold medal, But you can’t cut yourself short with a silver. There is still the same journey and the same fight to get there. It’s something I’m proud of.

How much motivation do you use for Canada after getting so close in 2011?

I do. You never forget. That’s the one piece you always have in the back of your mind of what happened and how it happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again. You remember your feelings after the loss and you can build on that and grow stronger so that you can put your best foot forward in those games. You never forget. But you don’t want to get too emotional where the game becomes more emotional than the actual game itself.

It’s been 16 years since the team last won in 1999.

The game always has been tough. Yeah, we were more dominant. We won in ’99, but that wasn’t easy. It was in the top three. When you get to those games, in soccer anything can happen. I’m proud of this team being in the top three of every championship we’ve entered. We wish we could have had probably more results in the World Cup. We’ve been really good in the Olympics. It’s just that we’ve been cut a little short in the World Cup.