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State of the Union with U.S. Captain Christie Rampone

U.S. captain Christie Rampone is entering her 12th year as a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team. The veteran has seen it all on the soccer field over the last decade, which is why she is the ideal player to give an update on the current training camp and some insight into what 2009 will hold for the U.S. Women’s National Team. As she answers 11 questions for, Rampone talks about the team’s evolution, what’s in store for 2009 and how she was more of a “stop and pop” guard on the basketball court. After living in California for two years, you have now moved back to your home state of New Jersey. Any culture shock?

Christie Rampone: “Weather! Running outside in hat and gloves compared to shorts and a tank top, it is just not the same. I was definitely becoming a California girl. I was a bit of wimp the first few times in the cold weather in Jersey, but I continued to train outside. I just layered up. It is nice to be back home with family and friends, especially during the holidays.” For sure 2008 was an amazing year for the U.S. Women’s National Team. With those accomplishments in the past, and looking forward to 2009 and the start of WPS, the national team players will be together about 80 days as opposed to 200 last year. The culture of the team will change a bit. How do you see it changing?

CR: “I see a lot of new faces mixing with the veteran players, but the biggest changes will be Pia’s direction she takes the team. I see us becoming more offensive-minded. Having more players in the mix will make things more competitive and in turn make the national team stronger, both physically and mentally. Some players may not be getting a call-up every time as she looks at new players, so you have to be mentally strong and keep yourself ready with your club once you do get called into a camp. Some of us may be playing different positions with our clubs than we play for the national team so we will have to be flexible and adaptable in that as well.” There is now about two and half years until the next FIFA Women’s World Cup. How would you like to see the play of the WNT evolve over that time?

CR: “I would like to see this team become more technical and play with more confidence with the ball at our feet and going forward into the attack. I think we’ve had a good defensive mind-frame, and of course, we need to keep that going. But now the main way in which we can evolve is going forward and having everyone on the field being comfortable in the final third. We want to be able to go at teams with a lot of numbers.” There have been a lot of young players in this training camp. How difficult is it for a young player to make an immediate impact and how has this group been?

CR: “I think it’s always tough to make an immediate impact due to the speed of play, and the style change from the club, college or other team that they are coming from. Just adjusting to new formations and new styles of defending and attacking is not easy. However, the quality of play of these young kids definitely shines through at moments, which allows them to build confidence and find their way on the field. Overall, I feel like we have a welcoming environment. Sure, it’s highly competitive, but in the end we all want each other, and thus the whole, to succeed and reach our final goals of winning world championships.” WPS is scheduled to start at the end of March. You will be one of the relatively few players who played in WUSA that will play in WPS. Can you talk about the positives that the new league will bring to women’s soccer in the USA?

CR: “The positives are in the consistent games. You need to play games to get better. You take everything you learn in training, but you need that competitive environment to improve and with the league, far more players will be getting this chance. That can only benefit the national team and women’s soccer overall in the USA.” You are very good friends with Shannon Boxx. What happens when the Los Angeles Sol is playing the New Jersey Sky Blue and suddenly Shannon is squared up on your goal with only you to beat?

CR: “For that moment, we are not friends. It’s on. I am sure she feels the same way. After the game, of course, we go back to being best friends. We can go to go coffee before or after the game, but during that 90 minutes, we both want to win badly and we are wearing different uniforms. It’s the same way in national team training when she is wearing a green bib and I’m wearing a yellow one.” You are starting your 12th year as a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team and are the only player in training camp left from the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Team. What do you think are the keys to longevity as a national team player?

CR: “Finding your balance between training, fitness, recovery and happiness off the field is so crucial. Obviously, you have to have the talent to play at this level, but once you get here, you have to train like you always want to get better. You can never get complacent. Even though I’ve been on the team for 12 years, I always know that at any time, anyone is replaceable. You have to come into every camp, excited, fit, ready and focused to play. You also have to enjoy that process. If that process becomes boring or not fun, it will be hard to stay at this level. For me personally, having Rylie [her daughter] also helped. Physically, it was hard to come back from having a baby, but she made me realize the enjoyment I got out of soccer and to just play the game because I love it and not to analyze every little mistake like I used to. She changed my perspective.” The team is currently preparing for the Algarve Cup. We know that is one of the favorite trips for the U.S. players for the locale and the competition. Can you talk about the competitiveness of the tournament?

CR: “You can’t beat the competition at the Algarve. Especially because it’s early in the year, you really get a good read where the team is and what we need to work on going forward. It’s really one of the few times we have the chance to see Germany so hopefully we can play them this year. It really is the only tournament that sort of replicates the Olympics.” Your three-year-old daughter Rylie is getting to the point where she will start to remember some of her experiences from life with the Women’s National Team. That must be a cool thing for you?

CR: “Knowing that she is surrounded by amazing role models and she gets to see different emotions and true emotions from females. From the seriousness on the field in training, to them taking care of their bodies off the field, hydrating and attending to injuries, to them having a great time with each other. It gives me the chance to explain a lot of things to her and brings up a lot of life lessons that I can share.” You’ve worn No. 3 for the national team for many years now. Is that at all a tribute to your ability to drain the three-pointers during your high school and college basketball career?

CR: “Absolutely not! I did hit a three on occasion, but I was the ‘drive the lane, hit short jumpers’ kind of player. My game was defense converting into offense, sort of like it is now. Defense was always my best quality so it makes sense I ended up a defender in soccer.” Your fellow center back Kate Markgraf scored her first career goal last fall, which was enjoyable for everyone. You actually made her go up and take the penalty kick against Ireland. You have four career goals, but none since 2000. How are we going to get you another one?

CR: “The way Pia wants me to play, it could happen. She wants me to get more into the attack and is giving me the freedom to make runs forward when it’s on. I have to read what the game gives us, and at times help get more numbers into the attack, but I know I am still a center back. This is all a part of trying to improve our attack through to 2011. Who would have thought a center back would be attacking? But I love it.”