October 25, 2014

CHESTER, Pa. (AP) Christie Rampone got a diamond necklace from USA Soccer for her 300th international appearance with the national team. Yet it's clear her memories are far more precious.

The 39-year-old veteran defender has been with the U.S. women's team since 1997 and is currently the most capped player in the world.

On Friday night, she got No. 300, helping the United States qualify for its seventh straight World Cup with a 3-0 victory over Mexico in a semifinal match of the CONCACAF Women's Championship.

''It's an honor to be able to play in so many games, especially a game like this is even more meaningful,'' she said following the victory. ''It's not about the 300th, but it's always going to be a memory because we advanced to the World Cup.''

Rampone was on the last U.S. team to win the World Cup, in 1999. The United States fell to Japan in the final of the 2011 World Cup in Germany.

The U.S. will face Costa Rica in the CONCACAF final on Sunday at PPL Park. But because the top three finishers at the championship for the North and Central American and Caribbean region qualify for the World Cup, the U.S. and Costa Rica have already booked trips to the event next year in Canada.

Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago will play in the third-place match, with that winner also securing a spot in the expanded World Cup field. The fourth-place finisher will still have a chance to qualify with a match against Ecuador next month.

The U.S. team, ranked No. 1 in the world for the past five years, was the easy favorite going into the eight-team CONCACAF tournament. Canada did not play because it is already in the World Cup as host.

The United States has not dropped a match in the tournament, but the team was hurt in the group stage when forward Alex Morgan sprained her left ankle during a win over Guatemala. She will miss four to six weeks. Morgan injured the same ankle last October and was sidelined seven months.

Rampone, the mother of two daughters, will play in her fifth World Cup if she makes the roster that coach Jill Ellis takes to Canada. She has also played in four Olympics, with three gold medals.

Her international appearances fall second only to Kristine Lilly, who had 352 caps over a career that spanned 1987 to 2010.

''I played with a lot of amazing players. I've been coached by tremendous coaches that have paved the way for me and brought me to where I am today,'' she said. ''I've continued to learn, and that's the best thing about the sport.''

Rampone jokes that she has played under six coaches, prompting a lighthearted eye roll from Ellis, who was named head coach in May following the dismissal of Tom Sermanni.

Rampone, who also plays for Sky Blue FC of the National Women's Soccer League, likes the direction the national team is taking under Ellis as the United States heads toward the World Cup and an expanded field of 24 teams.

''It's definitely been a journey,'' Rampone said. ''I went from a shy and quiet girl, a forward converted to a defender, coming into a leadership role, to having that confidence in excelling at outside back and center back. The game has evolved so much from the fitness level to the speed, to the vision, to the skill, to the technical ability on the ball. I'm just really excited to be a part of the growth of soccer, and hopefully I can continue on.''

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