By Brian Trusdell | March 04, 2017, 9:31 p.m. (ET)
Christine Rampone salutes the fans with her daughters during a tribute ceremony before the match between England and the U.S. during the SheBelieves Cup at Red Bull Arena on March 4, 2017 in Harrison, N.J.

 

HARRISON, N.J. – Christie Rampone owns the crown of being the United States’ most decorated soccer player, yet she remained in her other identity Saturday as “America’s Ultimate Soccer Mom.”

Flanked by her daughters, 11-year-old Rylie and 6-year-old Reece, Rampone waved and smiled broadly despite the frigid 26-degree weather (and 9-degree wind chill) at Red Bull Arena as she was honored for her 19-year career with the U.S. women’s national soccer team before its SheBelieves Cup game against England.

“They have been through it with me,” Rampone said as he nodded toward Rylie, who retreated as a gaggle of reporters gathered around her mother. “They started from 3 months on, traveling with the girls. They were a huge part of it, so I wanted them to actually feel the success of a such a great career, and longevity, and knowing that I’m in a good place, doing it together because now it’s on to coaching them.”

Rylie and Reece beamed in the roar of the capacity crowd of 26,500, an audience particularly proud of one of its own with Rampone hailing from Point Pleasant, New Jersey, about an hour’s drive south on the Garden State Parkway. Rampone’s framed No. 3 jersey stood to one side while a video compilation of her career was played to Alicia Keys’ “Girl On Fire.”

It showed moments from Rampone’s 311 games in a U.S. uniform — second most in women’s soccer history behind only former teammate Kristine Lilly — which included three Olympic gold medals (2004, 2008, 2012), an Olympic silver medal (2000) and two FIFA Women’s World Cup titles (1999, 2015).

“She probably won’t be remembered like a Carla Overbeck, necessarily, is remembered, or at the same level as a Mia Hamm, but the people who know will know her contributions to the game, how she went about her business, her leadership and what the team achieved when she was their captain (2008-2015),” former U.S. coach Tony DiCicco said.

Rampone retired from the national team in 2015, coming on in the 86th minute of the 5-2 victory over Japan in the final of the Women’s World Cup and lifting the trophy with world all-time scoring leader Abby Wambach. She played her last game two months later, an 8-0 friendly victory over Haiti, playing a full 90 minutes and wearing the captain’s armband for the last time.

After retiring herself following the 2015 Women’s World Cup title, Wambach returned Sunday as well to present Rampone with a bouquet of roses at midfield.

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Rampone remains active, heading into another season with her club team, the central New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC, next month at 41 years of age.

It’s a career that started as a forward, but was switched to defender by DiCicco after he scouted her watching her play for Monmouth University — where she was on a basketball scholarship — in 1997 at 21.

She scored four goals for Team USA, but stats were never the way to define her 24,011 minutes in a U.S. uniform.

“It’s tough for a defender,” said current Team USA captain Carli Lloyd, the two-time reigning FIFA women’s player of the year. “Often times they are out shadowed by the attackers because our country is based on a lot of statistical things, and they’re sort of like the unsung heroes of the team, not too many people recognize them.

“And I think for Christie, it’s not about her name plastered everywhere or being in the spotlight. I think she’s proud of who she is and what’s she’s done for this team.”

Rampone’s legacy will be told and shaped by other current members of Team USA, like 24-year-old Julie Johnston, who lauded “Captain America” — Rampone’s other nickname — for her guidance and friendship when she assumed the starting role in the center of the defense.

But for Rampone, who transitioned through six coaches with Team USA, she looks back and marvels at the players she shared the field with from Hamm, Julie Foudy and Tiffeny Milbrett to Wambach and current goal-scoring star Alex Morgan.

“It’s crazy. There are so many great memories and great stories to pass on,” she said. “One day it’s going to hit me: ‘Wow, I played 19 years at the highest level,’ as a mom, and everything I was able to accomplish through sport, and what sport brought me is pretty amazing and special.”

Brian Trusdell has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.