This week’s announcement of the U.S. Soccer Federation’s landmark agreement to offer equal pay to the women’s and men’s national soccer teams – including sharing in World Cup prize money – came at the perfect time ahead of the National Soccer Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022 induction ceremony.
Gender equality advocate and tennis legend Billie Jean King was quick to recognize the efforts of the women who helped pioneer this effort, including 2007 Hall of Fame inductees Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy, both of whom also played on the winning 1999 U.S. World Cup team. And this Saturday, they’ll be joined in the Hall by fellow ’99 teammate Christie Pearce Rampone, along with former USWNT members Shannon Boxx and Linda Hamilton, when this year’s inductees are honored in Frisco, Texas.
The women make up of half of this year’s HOF class, which also features players Clint Dempsey and Marco Etcheverry, and referee Esse Baharmast. Former U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo was voted into the Hall of Fame this year, but her induction will be delayed a year while she participates in an in-patient treatment program following her arrest on a DWI charge in late March.
On-field experience drives Linda Hamilton’s sideline mentality
The journey to the Hall of Fame was decidedly different for each woman, beginning with Linda Hamilton, who was one of two candidates elected from the Veteran ballot (along with Bolivian MLS star Etcheverry). The 52-year-old Hamilton, who’s served as head coach of the Southwestern University women’s soccer team since 2015, played 71 full internationals for the USWNT between 1987 and 1995. She was a key defender on the U.S. team that won the first FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991 and played in the 1995 World Cup, where the U.S. finished third.
“It means a lot to me as a defender,” said Hamilton, who also was a four-time All-American during her collegiate career. “We don’t always get the statistics that maybe would back up the criteria. It’s easy when you’re the most prolific scorer or you’ve got millions of assists. But as defenders – I do make this joke a lot – there’s not a stat that says how many people I kicked the crap out of. Now, I think if there were that stat, I would definitely be in the top 10.”
Hamilton starred for three seasons at North Carolina State, earning 1988 ACC player-of-the-year honors before transferring to the University of North Carolina to play for then-future U.S. World Cup coach Anson Dorrance as a senior. The Tar Heels captured the 1990 NCAA national title and Hamilton finished her career as a candidate for national player of the year three times.
But being recognized for her contributions to the 1991 U.S. team is particularly meaningful to Hamilton, who noted, “It really is a very empowering, but also a very big honor. I’ve always felt our defense made these contributions, but to have it recognized by people in the environment and by external people to say, ‘Yes, everything you did have great value, and we still remember it,’ I think that’s something that really hits home and makes me really happy.”
Hamilton’s career featured 82 appearances with the USWNT including 12 Women’s World Cup matches. She was a starter in all six matches at the 1991 World Cup where the USWNT allowed just three goals in the tournament and recorded four consecutive shutouts. After a stint in the non-profit world, Hamilton returned to the sidelines as coach, which included stops at Hofstra University (2006), North Florida (2007-13) and Illinois College (2014).
“I guess the biggest lesson is: It’s not about failures,” explained Hamilton, who was named SCAC coach of the year for the third time in 2021 after leading the Pirates to their first regular-season title. “You can’t be afraid to be successful, and you can’t be afraid to fail. You have to have the courage to do that. But the real lesson is, what do you do with the failure, when you have the failure? What’s your next move? Do you give up? Do you quit? Do you hang your head in the middle of a game? Do you react? Or do you just get back at it. And I think if I spent too much time worrying about being perfect, and what I just failed at, I would never be able to come back and have the success that you find after you fail.”
‘Out of the blue’ invite turns into 19-year career for Christie Pearce Rampone
During a decorated 19-year professional career, New Jersey native Christie Pearce Rampone was a mainstay on a USWNT that captured two Women’s World Cup championships (1999, 2015) and three Olympic gold medals (2004, 2008, 2012). But ahead of her Hall of Fame induction this weekend, Pearce remembers that her national team career actually kicked off as a complete surprise.
As a college athlete at Monmouth University, Pearce – known as Christie Rampone for most of her career – was there on a basketball scholarship. She worked out a deal with her coaches to also play on the soccer team during her time there (1993-96), but when Pearce was handed her first invitation to a national team training camp in December 1996 – while on the bus coming back from a disappointing basketball loss – she admits she didn’t understand the significance.
“I had no idea what I was getting into,” said Pearce, who headed to camp in San Diego that January. “I had no idea that they had just come off a gold medal until I got into the meeting room. And that was the first experience I had with the national team, before we even entered the field for practice, was seeing highlights from the ’96 Olympics.
“So, sitting in a meeting room, not knowing anybody, as a basketball player, I was blown away that I was sitting among so many amazing legends. And now I’m going to enter the field with them not knowing anybody’s name, not realizing what I thought was just going to be a bunch of seniors kind of coming together and kind of showcasing themselves and not realizing I was stepping on the field with such legends.”
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She pulled out a camera, taking as many photos with players as she could and thinking she may never get such an opportunity again. Of course, that’s not how things worked out.
Pearce’s career included appearances in five Women’s World Cups and four Olympics, as well as all of the first 11 seasons of women’s professional league soccer in the U.S. (three seasons with the Women’s United Soccer Association, three with Women’s Professional Soccer and five National Women’s Soccer League). She was captain on field for the U.S. teams in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and the 2011 World Cup, and overall, Pearce appeared in 311 international matches and played 24,011 minutes in a U.S. uniform, second to only Kristine Lilly‘s record of 346 games and 28,874 minutes.
“I truly have embraced that journey,” said Pearce, who became a mom twice over during her career to daughters Reece and Riley. “I think that’s the highlight of my career is the journey: Starting off as a sub, becoming a starter, getting injured, coming back, making camps, not making rosters, you know, making my way back to the starting lineup, having children along the way was just, it was an all-encompassing great journey.”
Shannon Boxx’s better-late-than-never start fuels decorated career
Like former teammate Pearce, Shannon Boxx also was part of three gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic teams and the champion 2015 World Cup squad, but unlike both her fellow Hall of Fame inductees, Boxx’s USWNT career didn’t begin until nearly three years after she began playing professionally.
Boxx was already 26 when she was invited to her first national team training camp in 2003. After a standout career Notre Dame and three seasons in the WUSA where she earned MVP honors in 2003, Boxx was planning for post-player life, preparing to be an assistant coach at Cal State-Dominguez and pursue a master’s degree at Pepperdine.
But all that went out the door when Boxx made the team, going on to make 195 appearances for the USWNT from 2003-2015, ranking 12th all time and the most by a Black woman on the national team. She also became the first American woman to score in each of her first three appearances with the team, giving Boxx a platform she embraced as a biracial woman.
“There were definitely times when I was on the national team that I looked around and I was like, ‘I’m the only person here of color right now, you know, in certain moments on the team,’” she recalls. “For me, it was just the big weight that I was willing to have, but I remember feeling like, okay, when we’re signing autographs, I’m searching for those kids that are of color because I want them to know that they can do this, and I might be the only one right now, but that’s not going to be the way it is in the future.”
Boxx, a two-time postseason Best XI selection, continued her pro league career as well, and she’s one of just three women to play in all three seasons of the WUSA, all three seasons of WPS and the first three seasons of the NWSL. She also became a mother during her pro career, and publicly shared her health battles with Sjogren’s Syndrome and lupus.
Following her retirement, Boxx moved with her family in Portland, Oregon, where she founded an all-girls soccer academy called Bridge City Soccer Academy, dedicated to bringing the game to underserved populations.
“Parents are just so happy that we’re coming into a community that wants to do this,” said Boxx, who also is co-owner of NWSL expansion team Angel City FC in her native state of California. “They want to provide this for their children, but they have no means for it. I think it’s just making things a lot more accessible. And realizing that ‘pay to play’ is not the only means to get somebody to play soccer.”