Prepared for Japan

AP Photo/John Raoux

Christie Rampone and the U.S. women's national team play Japan in the opening match of the Algarve Cup on March 5.

I’m in Portugal with the national team right now for the Algarve Cup, which starts on Wednesday. The weather is nice -- well, nicer than at home. It’s sunny, 60s and perfect for playing soccer as long as the wind stays down.

We’re staying in a really nice hotel with the best fields we’ve ever practiced on. You just walk outside and onto the fields, which are flat and just picture perfect. It changes the whole training environment. Most of the times in Portugal the fields have been average, and it takes away energy and momentum of training. But this time we’ve been able to get after it.

I’d say this has been our best week of training. We play Japan in our first match on Wednesday and had our pregame practice today. The training sessions have really flowed this week. B.J. Snow, our U17 coach, came in and did a really good pregame meeting on Japan, analyzing them from the offensive and defensive side.

Tonight we’ll watch even more video so that we’re prepared and know Japan’s tendencies and weaknesses, and are ready on the mental side as well as physical side. Japan is good on the ball and very technical. Overall they’re a very possession-oriented team but there are certain players who tend to favor a particular side of the field, or look longer than others. So depending on their starting lineup, we’ll have an idea what to expect as far as which way they’ll play through more. You can’t rely on it, but you just go in having more information.

It’s good to be going into an Algarve Cup doing more prep than usual. Our coach, Tom Sermanni, is a numbers guy. He likes to be aware of the surroundings: numbers up, numbers down, when to play the box. Less running and more thinking is his philosophy. Slow down the game when you need to. As a team we’re quick and athletic, but he wants to see us use our heads a little more to really challenge the other teams. So we’re combining both aspects of the game. I think Tom is doing a good job of keeping us in that non-frantic phase, slowing down and staying more composed, and we’re starting to see it more and more in bits and pieces of the game.

Christie Rampone

Christie Rampone is sharing a hotel room in Portugal with her younger daughter, Reece.

Portugal has also been good for team bonding. The Internet is not the greatest where we are, and especially with the time change and sleep patterns, we’re not as connected to our phones and computers, which is nice. We tend to stay around the hotel and eat our meals in the same area, so we’ll hang out and chat for maybe an hour or longer before going back to our rooms to catch up on a downloaded TV show or just hang out some more and talk.

I’ve gotten to know the younger players a little more, like Morgan Brian, Samantha Mewis and Sarah Killion. I’m still learning about them on the field as well as off. I’ll sit near them at meals sometimes, or just overall listen to what’s going on with them. But it’s funny when they’ve got college schoolwork and I’m going back to the room to be a mom!

My younger daughter, Reece, 3, travels with me, so we share a hotel room. One of the other players, Stephanie Cox, has an 11-month-old and her mom is here, so she watches the kids while we have practice. Then Stephanie’s husband is coming and he’s going to take over for her mom. My husband is home with Rylie, our second grader. She’s been to Belgium too many times so she’s over it!

Reece is a tough traveler. She is more of a homebody, and once we’re at the hotel she likes to be in the hotel room and not do much else. But it’s probably good for me to have a little more downtime. She was sick yesterday with a stomach bug. Luckily we had an off day because I had to keep her away from the team. There’s no quarantine for Mom, but so far I’m in the clear.

There’s one channel on the TV in our room that plays nonstop Sochi Olympic coverage on repeat. All the buzz from the Winter Games definitely reminds me of our own journey. The Winter Olympics are a whole different mindset, though. Those snowboarders put in four long years, and one fall can change everything. It reminds me that every second counts and I have to enjoy it while I can.

It’s definitely going to be a battle for me this year and I probably won’t be getting as much playing time as I’d like. I’m focusing on trying to push myself and prove to myself I want to be here for next year. I understand I am getting older and I’m not going to be on the field as much as I’d like.

But even at my age I can still improve and get better. When I’m not playing on the field I’m still evaluating and watching the other players. Instead of being upset because I’m not out there I can gain something and appreciate the game. I’ve been consistently starting over the last couple of years, so this is a new role for me. I have to embrace it and do what I can with it.

And we’ll all be put to the test first thing tomorrow. Bring on Japan!