CHESTER, Pa. -- If it feels like a long time since Brandi Chastain scored the World Cup-winning goal, ripped off her jersey and was mobbed by her teammates, that’s because it was a long time ago.
It was 1999 — the last time the U.S. women won the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Most soccer fans remember where they were watching. Christie Rampone remembers better than most, of course, since she was there.
“It’s definitely been a journey,” Rampone said Friday, shortly after playing in her 300th career game for the national team. “I went from a shy and quiet girl to a forward converted to a defender, then coming into a leadership role. … I’m just really excited to be a part of the growth of soccer and hopefully I can continue on.”
How long Rampone, 39, continues to play is up in the air, but at the moment she remains focused on the present — and that means Sunday’s CONCACAF Women’s Championship game against Costa Rica (5 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1). The Americans qualified for the title game — and, more importantly, the 2015 Women’s World Cup, to be held next summer in Canada — with their 3-0 victory over Mexico on Friday.
Rampone received a diamond necklace from U.S. Soccer prior to Friday’s game in honor of her terrific career for the national team. She earned her first cap for the team in 1997 and her 300th at PPL Park in Chester, Pennsylvania, on Friday. In between, Rampone has played for six coaches and has run the pitch with countless teammates, all of whom grew to appreciate her skill, work ethic and leadership.
“She’s a great leader,” said Christen Press, who scored one of the goals in Friday’s semifinal victory with the other two tallies coming from Carli Lloyd, who called Rampone “a fixture of this team.”
Rampone, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is just the second U.S. player — man or woman — to reach 300 international caps. Kristine Lilly, who played in a world-record 352 games from 1987-2010, is the other.
Rampone’s 301st game will come Sunday, and the number will continue to grow — health permitting — when the national team heads to Canada for next year’s World Cup. It would be the fifth World Cup of Rampone’s career.
“It’s exciting,” said Rampone, who has also played in four Olympic Games with Team USA and won three gold medals. “We’re in the World Cup, but we want to make sure we finish this tournament off right and focus on the next game. But it’s exciting that we’re in. And we can start the process now of getting better and getting ready for the World Cup.”
Costa Rica, which qualified for its first Women’s World Cup with a penalty-kicks victory over Trinidad and Tobago on Friday, will certainly have its hands full in Sunday’s title game at PPL Park.
Not only are the Americans deep and talented, but they refuse to take their foot off the pedal despite having already qualified for the World Cup.
“We’re excited,” said Press. “Both teams are tired with it being the fifth game (of the tournament) for both, and then you have the potential letdown since we both just qualified for the World Cup. It will be interesting, but we’re here to win it.”
“Hopefully it’s a good match,” Lloyd added. “We’ll go out and enjoy it, but we plan to win. It’s a final. We’re going in to win it. We want to win it decisively.”
With Rampone leading the way on defense, the Americans have yet to allow a goal in this tournament. They have outscored the opposition 15-0 in four games and will be heavy favorites against Costa Rica, as they were against Mexico (and every other team in this event).
Forward Abby Wambach, for one, hopes that Costa Rica doesn’t simply pack in its defense against the U.S. team. That was essentially Friday’s strategy for Mexico, which sat back in the box, used a very conservative offensive game plan and appeared content to rest some of its best players in anticipation of Sunday’s third-place game with Trinidad and Tobago, with the winner earning the third CONCACAF World Cup berth (Canada qualified automatically as host).
“We’re excited to play teams that will play us straight up,” Wambach said, referring mostly to the upcoming World Cup but perhaps also to Sunday’s clash with Costa Rica. “It’s way more fun to play a team that will play you straight up, but it should be a great game.”
Rampone certainly hopes Sunday’s game will be one to remember. The U.S. captain admitted that she has forgotten about many of those 300 games, but qualifying for the World Cup, playing for CONCACAF championships and, ultimately, playing in the World Cup are some of her most memorable caps.
“It’s an honor to be able to play in so many games,” said Rampone, who has earned caps in 32 states and 17 countries. “It’s not about the 300th, but it’s always going to be a memory because we advanced to the World Cup.”
Drew Silverman is a writer from Philadelphia who has been covering sports for major outlets, including ESPN and NBC Sports, for more than 10 years. He has covered various sports for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.