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Players returning from World Cup bring attention to NWSL teams

Christie Rampone of the U.S. World Cup championship

Christie Rampone of the U.S. World Cup championship team and Sky Blue FC meets with the press before a game between Sky Blue FC and the Portland Thorn at Rutgers on Saturday, July 11, 2015. Credit: Errol Anderson

It's been quite a week for Christie Rampone.

The 40-year-old mother of two took part in two parades, made television appearances and received the keys to New York City.

Then Saturday, she was a guest of honor at Sky Blue FC's National Women's Soccer League match at Rutgers' Yurcak Stadium.

And yes, Rampone started it off by winning the World Cup.

"It's been absolutely amazing, just going from L.A., celebrating, West Coast to East Coast, finishing off with that [Manhattan] parade," Rampone, the Sky Blue team captain, said before the match against Portland Thorns FC.

Rampone and Sky Blue teammate Kelley O'Hara and Portland's Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath were honored before the match, although none played in the league game because, Rampone said, they were "exhausted."

Sky Blue won, 1-0, in front of 3,014 fans.

The United States women's national team was honored with a parade Tuesday in Los Angeles, and another down Manhattan's "Canyon of Heroes" on Friday, the first time a women's team received such an honor. Rampone also made appearances on talk shows including "Good Morning America."

"[I'm] kind of speechless, because I never expected something like that coming just from playing soccer," added Rampone, who has more international appearances than any active player (308), male or female, and is the second-most capped player all-time, behind former teammate Kristine Lilly.

"It's one thing to see it," the New Jersey product said of Friday's ticker tape parade, "but [to] be involved in it, and going down the street, it was magical. There's no other way to describe it."

Rampone became the oldest player to appear in a women's World Cup match, and is the only player on the 2015 roster that was also part of the United States' last World Cup victory in 1999.

"Obviously the level has grown and the excitement is so much better returning home," Rampone said.

Her long tenure with the national team gives her a unique perspective on how women's soccer has grown and its future. The World Cup final, between the United States and Japan, reportedly was seen by more than 25 million viewers, and Rampone said she is optimistic the popularity of the national team can carry over to the NWSL.

"Keep the momentum going," she said. "That's what we're here for and what we want to see happen. Obviously, we're all coming from a big stage and hopefully we'll bring that emotion and momentum back with our [professional] teams."

Previous women's soccer leagues were unable to build off World Cup successes, but Rampone said the NWSL -- which was founded in 2012 -- is making progress.

"I think the league is young and new and we're starting to get more internationals coming over. But it's still a process and it's not going to happen overnight," she said, adding "the product on the field is great. It's just all the intangibles off the field that continue to grow. Unfortunately, it's money and that comes with sponsorships and excitement. We hope that that comes on board with this victory."

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