By Brian Deakyne
NEPTUNE — Two months after she was given a rousing send-off, New Jersey native and United States Women’s National Team captain Christie Rampone was back at Jersey Shore University Medical Center last Friday.
This time, the celebration was much larger, as Rampone was welcomed home by thousands of family, friends and fans after the United States’ thrilling 2-1 win over Japan in the Olympic gold medal game in early August.
Rampone, who played high school soccer at Point Pleasant Borough and college soccer at Monmouth University, is the spokesperson for the K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling. When that final whistle blew, after being as tight as you can be for the entire tournament, you just want to hug every person, every teammate you can see,” Rampone said.
Capping off an exciting two weeks of soccer, the United States — who has never finished third in any tournament it’s been in — rallied to beat Canada, 4-3, in the semi-final match to reach the gold medal game. The Americans trailed 3-2 late in the game, but Abby Wambach converted a penalty kick in the 80th minute to tie the game, and Alex Morgan booted home the game-winning goal in the 123rd minute in extra time to send U.S. to the final.
“As the captain, the pressure is in those games leading up to the final,” Rampone said. “I did my best to keep all the distractions away from the team. Once we got to the final, all the pressure was off and we could just play.”
The United States beat Japan in the final, 2-1, behind two goals from Carli Lloyd. The win avenges a loss to the Japanese in last year’s World Cup Final.
The win is the United States’ third consecutive gold medal in the Olympic games, and in Rampone’s time with the team, she has recorded three gold medals, and one silver medal.
“The fact that we were playing Japan, who I have a tremendous amount of respect for, we just had to enjoy it,” Rampone said. “We had to give it everything we have, have no regrets, and leave everything on the field.”
The trip to the gold medal wasn’t all smooth sailing for Rampone and the United States, though.
In the 82nd minute, Rampone gave the ball away just outside the United States’ 18-yard box. It was there that Japan’s Mana Iwabuchi took the ball in free for a goal, only to have American keeper Hope Solo make a diving save to her left to preserve the U.S’ 2-1 lead.
“At the moment I just said to myself, ‘There goes my life’,” Rampone said of the giveaway. “I just made a bad touch, and I knew it once I did it. Luckily Hope Solo was able to make the save, and that’s what makes her a great teammate. I had nightmares about that play for the next two nights.”
This year’s roster had four players from New Jersey including Rampone. Heather O’Reilly from East Brunswick, Carli Lloyd, who scored both goals in the gold medal final, from Delran, Tobin Heath from Basking Ridge, gave the United States a strong showing from the Garden State.
“There’s four jersey girls on this team and that’s a credit to New Jersey. I couldn’t be prouder to represent my country from this state,” Rampone said.
The United States finished first in Group G to advance in the tournament and beat New Zealand, 2-0, in the quarterfinal to play Canada.