PRO SOCCER TALKPST Select Team
Anja Mittag, Christie Rampone

America’s Captain ready for another run

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Only her face and hands were exposed to the sharp Portland evening, the winds from an unexpectedly frigid November night circling and attacking players, media, and fans assembled at the basin of Jeld-Wen Field. Long black sleeves and pant leggings were complemented by a knit cap, the women’s national team training shirt, and the half-sneakers, half-cleats players use on FieldTurf. With frozen breath clouding her face as she stood at the side of the Timbers’ home field, Christie Rampone was in a place few expected at this stage of her career: Preparing for another game.

“I thought I’d have this amazing feeling after the (2012 Summer) Olympics,” the 37-year-old Rampone said, reflecting back on what was supposed to be her final major tournament, “like ‘I’m done, this is it.'”

It’s the reaction everyone expected. Rampone was the second-oldest out-field player at the Olympics. At Canada 2015 — the U.S.’s next major competition — she would turn 40, three years older that the most senior out-field player at Germany 2011. With little competitive soccer in the national team’s near-future, Rampone was supposed to use Wembley Stadium as her swan song.

But she didn’t. When the U.S. Women’s National Team captain was finished winning her third gold medal (the States defeating Japan 2-1 in August’s final), there was no feeling of completion. Redemption against a Japanese team that had denied Rampone a third World Cup in Germany provided no closure for a career with nothing left to accomplish.

But accomplishment can be overrated. Too often onlookers look at players like Rampone (or, on the other side of U.S. Soccer, Landon Donovan) and ask why a player would continue after all the boxes are checked, even though for many, no such checklist exists. Some athletes define themselves by their resumé. Others take pride in the process.

“I love the journey,” Rampone confessed, with pride. “Winning is obviously the main goal, but for me, it’s the journey to get there. The ups and downs. The highs and lows. Just being with my teammates.

“I’m not quite ready to give that up. I don’t feel it.”

source: Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 12, 2012: Rampone attends Citi’s Every Step of the Way Culmination Event at a Citibank Branch in midtown in New York City. (Photo by Fernando Leon/Getty Images for Citi)

Part of those ups and downs is women’s international soccer’s three-year stretch between meaningful tournaments, a span that includes the U.S.’s current Fan Celebration Tour: 10 cities, 10 states, 10 chances to cash-in on the U.S. team’s London success, and zero opportunities for competitive matches. It’s part of a mystifyingly unbalanced women’s soccer schedule that allows the sport to fade into irrelevance for three years before staging the World Cup and Olympics in a 14-month window.

It also creates the kind of slog that could deter an older player who can justify moving on – especially if that older player has won a combined five Olympics and World Cups. To have to spend two years playing meaningless friendlies around the obscurity of Algarve and Women’s Gold Cups may seem anti-climatic, particularly for somebody with two children and a husband in New Jersey.

But for as tough as it may be for Rampone to fly cross-country to play an exhibitions like the one against the lightly-regarded Irish on a frigid night in the Pacific Northwest, it’s all part of the job she loves.

“If my kids said to me, ‘Hey, Mom, you’re done traveling, I want you home,” I’d do it in a second,” Rampone explained.

“[The children] love it. They love the travel. Rylie, my oldest, she doesn’t want me to stop. She goes ‘I’ll miss it.’ Yeah, well, eventually [retirement is] going to happen. But why now?”

Rylie’s urgings should give some relief to U.S. national team fans who’ve seen the team’s dependence on Rampone grow despite the captain’s increasing years. While part of that is due to the changes at the back (Rampone was the only defensive player other than goalkeeper Hope Solo to start the 2008 and 2012 gold medal games), Rampone’s personal contributions – her maturity, as a player – are the main reasons for her prominence. Her recovery speed, still as good as any in the game, combines with her experience, intelligence and leadership to keep her in the conversation among the best defenders in the world.

It’s a remarkable place to be for somebody who started her career as an attacker, her 5’6″ height normally a deterrent to a role in central defense. As her career evolved, she was moved to fullback, often played wide in a three-women defense, and then settled into the middle under Sundhage, a position she’s made her own.

source: AP
Rampone, center, high-fives figure skater Sarah Hughes after they threw out the ceremonial first pitch before a baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays, Monday, Aug. 27, 2012, at Yankee Stadium in New York. At left, Rampone’s daughter, Rylie, 6, wears her mother’s gold medal. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

“[I’m] just more a confident player, especially playing in the center,” she says when asked to compare herself to the 27-year-old version of Christie Rampone. At no point does she mention an area of her game where she feels she’s worse. “You’re organizing. You’re dictating [the game]. You’re seeing the game. I just feel so confident out there when I’m playing that just everything else flows.

“Still having the speed, the recovery speed, I’m there to help everybody else out … Just being able to be the one solid person back there that can help [the game] flow.”

Hers is not the type of vocal, front-of-camera leadership you see from her teammates, most notably Abby Wambach and Hope Solo. Minute-to-minute, there’s little in her words that separate her from her teammates, though her on-field actions speak to national team experience that dates back to 1997.

“I feel like I’m more the calming effect on the field,” is how Rampone explains her leadership style, “because I’m not like Raaar. It’s just more of a when I speak it means something.”

In a squad that, under Pia Sundhage, was often left players to sort out their own internal problems, Rampone’s level-headed leadership often provided crucial balance. Combined with her on-field contributions, for which U.S. Soccer has no replacement lined up, Rampone’s decision to persist becomes a particular blessing.

Should she stay with the team though the next World Cup (Canada 2015) and Olympics (Brazil 2016), Rampone could become the most-capped player in national team history. That honor currently rest with Kristine Lilly, whose 352 appearances are 79 more than Rampone’s 273. Over the last four years, U.S. soccer has played 78 games, though that includes an eight-match schedule in 2009. Up that slightly, a Rampone could pass Lilly after Brazil.

“I would love to continue to play,” Rampone said, “at least for a year or two, see where the team’s at, because I really am still enjoying it.”

That “year or two” timeframe is a curiously short one for a standout defender who seems committed to the next cycle. The next major tournament doesn’t start until June 2015. A three-to-four year commitment will be needed to get through the next Olympics, at which time Rampone will be 41.

But the numbers were less reference to her age or performance than deference to the changes happening above her within the team. Sundhage, who guided the team through the last cycle, has left the U.S., taking the head coaching position with her native Sweden. With her went all of the preferences and biases each coach develops in a job.

Now former-Australia head coach Tom Sermanni is stepping into the position, and although Rampone is familiar with him from their time together at the Women’s United Soccer Association’s New York Power, the captain’s taking nothing for granted.

source: AP
Tom Sermanni, new coach of the United States women’s soccer team, poses for a photo outside the United States Soccer Federation Headquarters after an interview on Oct. 30, 2012, in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

“I’ll just talk to him, feel him out, see if I’m going to get a call in,” Rampone says, modestly. “Playing with [Sermanni] would be unbelievable. I would be sad if I couldn’t get a few games under him.”

It’s an excessively modest assessment. Rampone is clearly the best defender on the team, somebody who has had no problem maintaining her high level of fitness. She’s neither injury-prone nor visibly slowing down, something that would mark that end to her effectiveness at the international level. With uncertainty surrounding every other position along the back, her exclusion from the team’s future plans would be anywhere from unlikely to a huge, unnecessary risk.

As somebody who wants to get back into coaching when her playing days are gone (as an interim head coach, she led Sky Blue FC to Women’s Professional Soccer’s 2009 title), Rampone was deferential to her new coach’s potential plans:

“It’s just up to where he sees me and what he wants to do. I have no idea, his thoughts.”

There was no fear in her words. She wasn’t afraid of competing for a spot or being told she was too old. (“I’ve had a great career. If I’m able to keep playing … I want to do it. If not, I’ll move on.”) If anything, Rampone welcomes the competition.

“Every coach comes in with their philosophy and their thoughts. Will he want to go younger? Will he want to sick with the same or just bring everybody in and everybody fight it out, just like the good old days? Just grind it out, earn your spot, which I’m hoping. That way it just makes it more competitive here.”

Rampone’s questions will start to be answered this week when Tom Sermanni joins up with the national team  on Dec. 7 for a three-game observation period before assuming full head coaching responsibilities in January.

He’ll likely observe what U.S. Soccer fans already know – what he, likely, already knows. Despite retirement expectations and a future of two major tournaments in her 40s, Rampone remains a crucial part of the U.S.’s chances in 2015 and 2016. With player and family set to continue, Rampone may yet become the most capped player in team history, a worthy status if she’s able to add to her five major titles.

CONMEBOL declare Chapecoense as 2016 Copa Sudamericana champions

ADDS NAMES - In this Nov. 2, 2016 photo, players of Brazil's Chapecoense team pose before a Copa Sudamericana soccer match against Argentina's San Lorenzo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Top row from left, goalkeeper Marcos Danilo Padilha, Bruno Rangel Domingues, Helio Hermito Zampier Neto, Cleber Santana Loureiro, Willian Thiago. Bottom row from left, Guilherme Gimenez de Souza, Ananias Eloi Castro Monteiro, Tiago "Tiaguinho" Da Rocha Vieira, Matheus Bitencourt da Silva, Dener Assuncao Braz and Jose "Gil" Gildeixon Clemente de Paiva. A plane carrying the Brazilian soccer club Chapecoense team that was on it's way for a Copa Sudamericana final match against Colombia's Atletico Nacional crashed in a mountainous area outside Medellin, Colombian officials said Tuesday, Nov. 29. (AP Photo/Gustavo Garello)
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Chapecoense have officially been crowned as the 2016 Copa Sudamericana champions.

The Brazilian Serie A club tragically lost 19 players, plus its head coach and many of its backroom staff and directors in a charter plane crash last Monday in Colombia as Chapecoense traveled to play Atletico Nacional in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final.

[ MORE: Latest on Chapecoense tragedy ]

In total, 71 of the 77 passengers on board died as the plane was reportedly short on fuel and suffered a complete electrical failure leading it to crash in a mountainous region just south of Medellin, Colombia.

Now, following a request from Atletico Nacional to award the trophy (the South American equivalent of the UEFA Europa League) to Chapecoense, the title has been officially ratified by CONMEBOL, the governing body of soccer in South America.

In a statement on their website, CONMEBOL confirmed that Chapecoense would receive the trophy and “all the honors and prerogatives of the 2016 South American Cup Champion” which go along with it.

CONMBEOL stated that the decision was made after they received a latter on Nov. 30 from Atletico Nacional asking “to hand over the title of the South American Cup to Chapecoense to honor its great loss and to act as a posthumous homage to the victims of the fatal accident.”

The governing body also confirmed that Atletico Nacional had been awarded a “Centennial Conmebol Fair Play award” for their remarkable act of fair play in such tragic circumstances.

Since the tragedy which has shocked the world occurred, the soccer community has come together to honor Chapecoense.

Last Wednesday, on the night the game between Chapecoense and Atletico Nacional should have taken place, fans of Nacional packed the stadium in Colombia and honored the victims in a memorial service and songs. Brazilian soccer has also acted to propose that Chapecoense is immune from relegation from Brazil’s top-flight for three seasons, plus plenty of the biggest clubs in the nation have said they will not charge loan fees for players if Chapecoense needs them.

The team from the small city of Chapeco in southern Brazil was on the verge of its greatest ever week as a club as they had battled up from the fourth-tier of Brazilian soccer in 2009 to the final of a continental tournament in 2016.

Now, they’ve been crowned the champions of the Copa Sudamericana to honor Chapecoense’s players, staff and all of those lost in the tragedy.

Victims in British sex-abuse scandal unite, call for justice

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 04:  An aerial view of Wembley Stadium on November 4, 2009 in London, England. The UK's capital city is home to an population of over 7.5 million people, it has the world's oldest and most extensive underground train network and it's airspace is the busiest of any city.  (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) The man whose harrowing testimony of being sexually abused by a youth coach sparked an ongoing crisis in English soccer wants to take the issue to a global level.

“I can’t even begin to give you the numbers of people contacting me directly, not just footballers and ex-footballers but members of the public,” Andy Woodward told The Associated Press on Monday. “It’s everywhere.”

If he’s not too weary by the sheer scale of the scandal he helped to uncover, Woodward will fly to New York on Wednesday to speak to an American broadcaster about his 30-year journey from abused youth player to an inspiration to millions.

“I personally know that in America, there are certain things which have potentially happened there,” Woodward said. “It’s just about reaching out to everyone.”

Woodward was the first of a growing list of former soccer players to go public over the past three weeks about the ordeals they went through as youngsters.

The effect has been bigger than they could ever have imagined.

About 450 people have reported incidents of child sexual abuse at soccer clubs to 18 British police forces. A hotline set up by a children’s charity in response to sex abuse claims has taken about 1,000 calls in little more than a week. At least 55 clubs, professional and amateur, have been implicated in the story.

On Saturday, Chelsea – the current leader of the English Premier League and one of the biggest clubs in the country – apologized to a former player who was sexually abused while a member of the club’s youth team and who was paid 50,000 pounds ($77,500) to keep the matter out of the public domain.

The English Football Association, meanwhile, has started an internal review to re-examine its response to convictions of soccer coaches in the 1990s.

All this because Woodward was brave enough, after decades of anguish and soul-searching, to break his silence.

“I have no words for the emotion about how I feel about it all,” Woodward told the AP. “In my stomach, I knew there was a lot more (victims) out there.”

The scandal is sure to get bigger.

On Monday, Woodward and other victims launched an independent trust to support players – and their families – who have suffered from child abuse. The aim of the “Offside Trust” is to create a support network for victims, and establish a united front in the search for justice.

“We can’t let that happen again,” Woodward said at an emotionally charged news conference in Manchester. “We need to let players from this beautiful game we’ve got to be able to be free from (our) horrible experience and go on to be those footballers they are aspiring to be.”

Comments from a lawyer who sat alongside Woodward at the news conference, and who is helping to run the trust, sparked renewed concern about the scope of the scandal.

Ed Smethurst, managing director of law firm Prosperity Law LLP, said he was aware of other cases where soccer clubs have used confidentiality clauses in settlements with victims of sexual abuse. Smethurst also said he knows of people still involved in coaching who victims have spoken about and “certainly need further investigation.”

Woodward and other victims have become like a family. Clearly tense before the news conference, he and fellow victim Steve Walters embraced and nervously sipped water.

Walters – the second person to go public about sexual abuse he suffered as a young player – broke down at one stage, and didn’t want to answer certain questions.

“I’ve had over 50 different players get in touch with me (about abuse they suffered),” Walters told the AP afterward. “Some have been professionals, some are still in the game now, a lot of them have fallen by the wayside.

“There are sad stories that people have turned to drink, had broken relationships, one or two have had mental breakdowns. People don’t realize the mental torture it provides for you.”

Walters said a Belgian player contacted him to speak about his experience of being abused as a youngster, and that he has also spoken to people from Canada, the United States and Australia.

There are two things Walters and the others want to come out of all this.

“We want justice,” Walters said. “And we want our future children, especially those involved in sports, to be protected so something like this can never ever happen to a child again.”

After talks, struggling West Ham to stand by Slaven Bilic

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 07:  Manager Slaven Bilic of West Ham United reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Swansea City at the Boleyn Ground, May 7, 2016, London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Slaven Bilic has been given the dreaded vote of confidence by West Ham’s owners…

[ MORE: Chelsea, Man City charged by FA ]

Reports have stated that Bilic has met with Hammers co-owner David Gold and David Sullivan following the 5-1 defeat to Arsenal on Saturday and they believe the Croatian coach can still turn things around. Other reports suggested Bilic could be fired after a dreadful start to his second season in charge of the Hammers.

In simple terms, this is season is a pretty epic sophomore slump for Bilic after he led West Ham to a seventh place finish last season with the Hammers flirting with the top four for most of the campaign.

West Ham currently sit just one point off the relegation zone and have lost three of their last five Premier League games, plus their much-maligned move to the London Stadium has added to the air of negativity engulfing the east London club.

In a statement posted on West Ham’s website, co-owner Sullivan had the following to say

I saw Slaven’s comments after the game and as always he was completely honest with his assessment. Slaven cares passionately about the Football Club and this defeat will be hurting him as much as anyone. I have no doubts that he is doing everything he can to address the situation and everyone is working together to ensure we turn our season around. We cannot forget the amazing job that Slaven did in his first season at the Club.

With a bit more luck he could have taken us into the top four. His passion, commitment and outstanding track record at the highest level were among the many reasons we appointed Slaven in the summer of 2015. Despite what some people have said, there is still a great spirit among the players and everyone is working towards the same objective. We all need to stick together and get behind the team. We are all part of the West Ham United family and in hard times families pull together.

Bilic was bullish following the defeat to Arsenal but he was also honest, questioning the lack of intensity in training from his players since the summer and he acknowledge that he is under pressure to turn things around.

“I am a very positive, open person. I tried to be open and honest here. I am very optimistic. I never give up,” Bilic told the media after the defeat against Arsenal. “I was that kind of a player, I am positive. I can turn this around. Do I enjoy being in this situation? No I don’t enjoy it. Do I feel the pressure? Yeah. But it’s not about the pressure. I don’t want to feel like I do now. Did I do enough last season for West Ham to get some credit? I think I did. At the same time, I’m 48 and I’ve spent all of my life in football. I now how it works in football. Do I like my job? Yes I like it.”

This can go one of two ways for the former West Ham defender. The backing of the owners and chairmen will be a relief to him, yet we will see just how supportive they are between now and early January as a pivotal stretch of games arrive.

After West Ham’s trip to Liverpool this weekend they face four big games against fellow relegation rivals Burnley, Hull City, Swansea City and Leicester City.

Anything other than 9-10 points from the four games against fellow strugglers and it could be goodbye Bilic.

FA charge Man City, Chelsea with failing to control players

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Following the almighty melee which broke out in the closing stages of Chelsea’s 3-1 win at Manchester City, both clubs have been charged by the FA.

[ MORE: Aguero gets four games ]

Sergio Aguero’s late lunging tackle in David Luiz (which earned the Man City striker a four-game ban) sparked the mass brawl and in the melee which ensued Fernandinho was sent off for pushing and grabbing Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas around the neck as City finished the game with nine men.

The FA also stated that Chelsea’s Fabregas will face no further action for his part in the coming together with Fernandinho, as alternate camera angles appeared to show him hit City’s Brazilian midfielder in the face.

Below is the statement in full from the FA on the brawl, plus Fabregas’ involvement:


Both Manchester City and Chelsea have been charged for failing to ensure their players conducted themselves in an orderly fashion and/or refrained from provocative behaviour. 

It follows an incident in the 95th minute of the game on Saturday 3 December.

Both clubs have until 6pm on 8 December 2016 to respond to the charge.

Meanwhile, Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas will not face any further action in relation to an incident involving City’s Fernandinho.

Off the ball incidents which are not seen at the time by the match officials are referred to a panel of three former elite referees.

Each referee panel member will review the video footage independently of one another to determine whether they consider it a sending-off offence.

For retrospective action to be taken, and an FA charge to follow, the decision of the panel must be unanimous.

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