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Going for Gold: Will Rampone make Olympic roster?

Christie Rampone will miss the USWNT's December games with a knee injury. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Christie Rampone has a tough road to securing her fifth Olympic appearance. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Longtime U.S. captain and four-time Olympic gold medalist Christie Rampone has not played for the U.S. national team in 2016.

Rampone, 40, had surgery in December 2015 due to a bone bruise in her left knee and has been away from the national team since.

Her rehab has been going well according to Sky Blue FC head coach Christy Holly.

“She’s come back in. She doesn’t skip a beat. It’s unbelievable. They’re almost trying to tame her a little bit, hold her back because she’s come through surgery and rehab,” he said. “She hit the ground on the first day of preseason and she’s been at every practice, taken part in every game. Even through the physical tests she’s producing numbers that are way beyond where she should be.”

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Despite Rampone’s progress, she has a tough road to securing her fifth Olympic appearance with such a strong pool of players competing for just 18 spots on the 2016 Olympic roster. However, head coach Jill Ellis has said she will get a chance to prove herself.

“I talked to Christie right before [Olympic qualifying] camp started. The agreement that her and I said is we’d catch up after qualifying. It was partly getting her healthy because she was having knee surgery,” explained Ellis following the team’s 7-0 win against Colombia in East Hartford.

“I spoke to her the other day and I said at this point I’m pleased with what I have, but there is always the case for injuries and things like that. Out of respect for Christie and what she has done, my intent is to bring her back in the next camp.”

This brings us to the question, should Rampone make the Olympic roster? Arguments can be made both for and against her inclusion.

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Rampone brings unparalleled experience and leadership to the national team. While she is not the world-class defender she once was, the intangibles Rampone brings to the team are vital. In an international tournament like the Olympics, which spans multiple weeks, there are inevitable ups and downs. Having a veteran presence like Rampone can help players weather the storms.

With Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston set as the team’s starting center backs, Rampone is vying for the backup center back position along with Whitney Engen and Emily Sonnett.

While Engen and Sonnett have little international experience, they are both top-level talents. Engen has been a consistent starter at the club level since being drafted fourth overall in the 2010 WPS Draft and is just 28 years old. Sonnett was the top selection in the 2016 NWSL Draft and is one of the top young players in the U.S.

It must be said that Rampone’s off-field contributions outweigh what she can do on the field for the U.S at this latter stage of her career. At the 2015 Women’s World Cup, she only played 14 total minutes in two matches.

Another factor working against Rampone is that Ellis must be sure that she can remain healthy during the Olympics. With only an 18-player roster in Rio, can Ellis trust a then 41-year-old Rampone (she will turn 41 in June) to be a healthy contributor? The short answer is no.

While what Rampone brings to the table can be valuable to a team, even at the top level in the world, it is unlikely that she will be selected to the 2016 Olympic roster. Barring injuries that change the current pool of eligible players, there just aren’t any spots for Rampone to make the roster.

Since winning the World Cup last summer, Ellis has begun a youth movement with the national team. This movement needs to continue to set up the U.S. for future tournaments behind 2016. If Ellis’ decision comes down to bringing Rampone for one last ride or giving Sonnett the valuable experience of her first major international tournament it would go against her previous roster decisions to take Rampone.

It is a testament to Rampone’s supreme work ethic and fitness that this is even a discussion. While many, including myself, would love to see Rampone suit up one last time for the U.S., at this point I wouldn’t bet on seeing her in Rio.

Dan Lauletta contributed to this piece.

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