With the 2010 WPS season bearing down upon us, 90:00 Soccer thought it might be a great idea to catch up with the woman that led her team, Sky Blue FC, both on and off the field, to the inaugural WPS Championship in 2009.
Christie Rampone, a Monmouth University graduate and former mainstay for US Women’s National team back line, came into the 2009 WPS season excited for a second crack at professional women’s soccer in the United States, but after the team stuttered to one win and two draws in their first six games, scoring only 3 goals in the process, and the suspension and eventual sacking of head coach, Ian Sawyers, Sky Blue’s hopeful dream start quickly turned in to somewhat of a nightmare.
The appointment of Kelly Lindsey to the head coach position led to improvement for Rampone and the squad, winning five and drawing three out of twelve, but Lindsey’s abrupt resignation less than a month into her tenure, derailed the team once again.
After much discussion, the Sky Blue FC brass decided to take the road less traveled while naming their third head coach in as many months. In June 2009, team captain, Christie Rampone was named player manager of Sky Blue FC. Rampone, who was asked to continue to lead the team on the field, while also taking care of business off the field, wasted no time making an immediate impact. Rampone led the team to a 4-0-1 record while at the helm, helping them capture the last of four playoff spots and eventual defeating Marta’s LA Sol in the WPS final to capture the inaugural championship.
Sky Blue FC’s decision to utilize the player coach is not the first of its kind, but it is such a unique situation that we at 90:00 decided we had to find out more about Rampone’s experience running the show in New Jersey! This is what she had to say…..
90 Soccer: As a player/coach for the conclusion of the 2009 did you take anything away, learn, or gain a new respect for the role of the professional soccer coach? If so, why?
Christie Rampone: I got to do what all coaches want to do, the reason they get into this profession…COACH! I did not have to deal with a lot of the off-the-field things that most coaches go through. For me, making decisions on starting line-ups and style of play was easy. I played with these girls all year, and know them on and off the field. I knew their strengths and weaknesses. Coaching is something that can be really enjoyable if you keep things simple. Give people confidence and create an environment where people work together.
90: As a former collegiate player that went into collegiate coaching straight away after graduation, I sometimes found the former team mate and friend vs. decision maker and boss issue to pose a problem. While you were coaching, did you ever have any issues with any of the Sky Blue FC players regarding playing time, decisions, egos, attitiudes etc? How were these issues resolved, and are you looking forward to being just a teammate in 2010?
CR: Yes…I am looking forward to being just a teammate! We had a great group of girls who understood their roles. Some players struggled with not starting, but they understood we were trying to win a championship. Natasha Kai lives with our family, and I made the decision to sit her. I felt like she wasn’t at her best due to multiple shoulder injuries. I wanted her to come off the bench rested and feeling good…I thought she would really be a threat later in the game. It worked…Tash entered the game in the second half and scored in under a minute. At first, Tash was not happy about my decision…I give her a lot of credit, because she trusted me and understood what our team was trying to accomplish. I think a lot of the girls know that I do not react emotionally. I am all about what is best for the team. They see it in my eyes, the way I treat people and the way I conduct myself every day. I subbed out Heather O’Reilly in the playoffs, because her body was not cooperating with her. It was a long year and we had not taken a break in forever. Heather was honest with me about how she felt…I think that honesty comes from a healthy relationship as her Captain on two teams.
90: Who was in charge of making the game decisions while you were on the pitch? Did you pass notes to the bench during throw ins and goalkicks? Are you going to miss the ability to sub yourself in and out and play where ever you want on the pitch next year? Ha Ha!
CR: My long time trainer, Mike Lyons and I would discuss strengths, weaknesses and strategies prior to each game. There were players on our team that could play multiple positions. Subs were a minute by minute decision based on how we were playing…We felt like all the “What If”s” were covered prior to the game. I would look at Mike during the game to make a move we had previously discussed. I really learned that you need to go with your instincts. In the game of soccer, pre-determined subs is probably not a good idea…It is not something I would ever do.
90: Million dollar question; Player or coach and why?
CR: Player! I can still contribute on the field. It is a player’s game! Players have to execute. When I cannot do it anymore, coaching will be fun.
90: With the inaugural WPS season in the books, how would you rate the experience as a whole? How does winning the first WPS championship match up to your many past accomplishments.
CR: Incredible/awesome experience! What we accomplished, being pregnant, having my trainer, Mike Lyons, help our team. Every success feels a little different, depending on where you are in life. This one felt good, especially being a huge underdog!
90: After managing the squad, would you say that soccer is truly a player’s game or are the decisions of coach’s underrated?
CR: I feel like a bad coach or bad coaching decisions can really hold you back from your full potential. Good coaches get players to believe in themselves and believe in working together, and they put players in situations that help them succeed. Coach’s decisions are definitely not underrated!
90: How many more WPS championships can we expect from Christie Rampone?
CR: Hopefully a lot! We need to make this league work for the future!