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Rampone near full fitness, looking to peak in June

Christie Rampone hopes to play for the U.S. against New Zealand on April 4 after missing the first six games of the year. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Christie Rampone hopes to play for the U.S. against New Zealand on April 4 after missing the first six games of the year. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

BRICK, N.J. — The only thing that seemed to be ailing Christie Rampone on a frigid, blustery morning near the Jersey Shore was an apparent cold that made her voice raspier than usual.

The United States women’s national team captain hasn’t yet played for her country this year after injuring a disc in her back in the weight room in January’s U.S. training camp. But she returned to training with the U.S. at the Algarve Cup in Portugal in early March, and the 39-year-old defender is back to training with her club, Sky Blue FC. Rampone has been practicing with Sky Blue all week and on Thursday she scored several impressive goals in a training drill, calling upon her days as a forward in college.

“Physically, I’m 100 percent,” Rampone said on Thursday. “It’s just now getting into that soccer fitness. I’m almost there. I was full-go pretty much the last seven days of Portugal and then I’ve been training with Sky Blue for the last week, so I’m feeling pretty good.”

Rampone said that she will play in at least the first three NWSL matches of the season and then discuss her fitness level with U.S. coach Jill Ellis and U.S. fitness coach Dawn Scott. U.S. players’ exact roles with their NWSL teams in April will be case-by-case, Rampone said, and for her that could possibly mean getting in an extra match.

“I’ve been getting less minutes with the national team and 90-minute games are important, just to get to that fitness level,” she said.

The U.S. plays New Zealand on April 4 in St. Louis, Mo., in their first home match of the 2015 campaign. Rampone could return then.

[KASSOUF: USWNT beats France, wins 10th Algarve Cup crownConfidence boost]

Rampone will turn 40 years old during the World Cup, which is set to be her fifth. On Wednesday, her teammate Abby Wambach — who turns 35 four days before the tournament begins on June 6 — announced she would not play in the NWSL in 2015. Ellis called Wambach’s situation “unique,” but what about others? On Thursday, reported that several players are contemplating retirement after the World Cup.

Has Rampone thought about her plans after the World Cup?

“Yes and no,” Rampone said. “It’s more of the feel. How the body is feeling, where the mind is. Coming home from winning the World Cup – which is the goal – it would be fun and exciting to see. I love these girls, love this team, love the atmosphere. So I hope to be fresh enough to continue playing.”

The U.S. captain said she had some idea about Wambach’s plans for the upcoming club season, and support’s the striker’s decision to get find her optimal situation to prepare for the World Cup.

“She’s pounding the ground on the turf,” Rampone said of Wambach. “I think she needs to take care of herself and more importantly, what she needs to do on and off the field. If that is what’s going to give her the benefit to be the best in the World Cup, I’m all for it. I’m definitely on her side in her decision.”

Rampone watched the United States’ first two Algarve Cup matches – wins over Norway and Switzerland – from the stands, a rare vantage point for a player with 304 caps. The view from up high allowed Rampone to see some of her team’s strengths and weaknesses.

“It’s so funny because when you are that far away, the game looks so simple,” Rampone said. “There are so many open spaces on the field that you maybe don’t necessarily see when you are playing. So it was good to see the opponents and see what they are giving us and see how we go after it; definitely realizing that you have more time on the ball than you think and not forcing too many straight balls, trying to shift the defense. It was good to see from afar and communicate that to my backline, to the team.”

The United States women have come under scrutiny for their recent play, but they are confident following an Algarve Cup triumph against France. Rampone said they are in the final phase of preparation for the World Cup, which includes one last fitness push and fine-tuning tactics.

“We are individually brilliant on this team,” she said. “It’s more of getting unified together on the field, working together. The best team is going to win the World Cup. We have it all, it’s just that final piece. We are not there yet, but we want to make sure that we are strong when we need to be and that is in June.”


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