Christie Pearce, One-on-One: On USWNT, retirement and life after divorce
Christie Pearce, one of the U.S. women's national team's most enduring legends, is nearing the end of her two-decade playing career. The Sky Blue FC center back will step away from the field at the close of this National Women's Soccer League season, although she plans to remain in the game.
The long-serving U.S. captain will leave a dynamic legacy of World Cups, Olympic medals and more caps than any man or women not named Kristine Lilly.
Pearce, 42, played most of her career as Christie Rampone but returned to her maiden name this spring after her marriage ended. She was a three-sport star out of Point Pleasant, New Jersey, who went to tiny Monmouth University on a basketball scholarship and walked onto the soccer team.
She didn't expect more, but Tony DiCicco, who guided the U.S. women to titles at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and in the 1999 Women's World Cup, called her into camp in early 1997. She was a mainstay through the U.S.’ triumph at the 2015 Women's World Cup before recently officially retiring from international play.
FourFourTwo caught up with Pearce to talk about her career, the evolution of the women's game, the differences among the three professional women's leagues that have taken the field in America, and what the future holds.
FOURFOURTWO: Five World Cups, four Olympics, three gold medals, 311 caps, a career lasting 20 years. This isn't what you expected, right?
CHRISTIE PEARCE: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. It's obvious from the way it started and kind of my role being a basketball player converted to a soccer player, if you want to say that. Going to a small school, never expecting to be on a national team, and then winning World Cups and gold medals and still playing at the age of 42. But I think I transitioned well, being a multisport athlete.
FFT: We've seen other U.S. players with long careers, not many into their 40s but several deep into their 30s. Did watching them help you in this regard?
CP: I just took it in stride in realizing that it's more of a passion and something that you want to do and just fully commit to. You realize players are playing at an older age, but it really comes from within and wanting to put that commitment in. Because it is [a huge commitment], with the national team on the road 260 days and traveling and the mental side and the physical side. You have to be fully committed.
FFT: When you were called into the national team, it was a surprise --
CP: One hundred percent.
It took a good six months [on the USWNT] before people communicated with me and realized that maybe I had something that was worthy of playing at that level.
FFT: You get there and are surrounded by legends. How did you find your way to becoming a part of the group?
CP: It was tough. [I'd had] no communication with Tony [DiCicco] before reaching that point and not knowing what to expect, the fear of the unknown, like, ‘What am I getting into?’ So it took a long time to adjust. You had to basically prove yourself, to get the respect from the older players, the ones who have established themselves and have just come off a gold medal [at the Atlanta Olympics] in 1996, so it took a good six months before people communicated with me and realized that maybe I had something that was worthy of playing at that level.
FFT: We sadly just lost DiCicco, one of the finest coaches and finest men in American soccer. What did he mean to you?
CP: He was everything. He actually had that belief and trust and saw something in me and brought me into the national team and, you know, worked with me, from forward converted into a defender, and continued to give me that confidence and that time to develop.
He's the reason I'm playing soccer. He gave me that passion. His love for the game and enjoyment really made it hard to give up. I wanted to continue playing, and, obviously, this year I'm playing for him.
FFT: When he told you he wanted to make you a defender, were you cool with it?
CP: One hundred percent. I was like, ‘You got me here, whatever you want to do, I'm going to do.’ And, obviously, there was a learning [curve] and a lot of film, a lot of mistakes, a lot of confidence adjustments, because you're getting beat all the time by the best players in the world at practice.
And adjusting to the fitness level. I was a three-sport athlete and I wasn't really soccer fit, so I failed miserably in the beginning. Tony had the patience to develop me and make me into the player I am today.