- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

SEOUL — Kate Markgraf is a real soccer mom.

Markgraf, who gave birth to her son, Keegan, on July 18, reached another milestone in her return to the U.S. national team Thursday, when she captained the U.S. team to a 2-0 win over the Netherlands in the team’s final Group B game in the Peace Queen Cup in Suwon.

With the win, the U.S. team advanced to today’s championship against Canada in Seoul’s World Cup Stadium. The winning team receives $200,000.

“The thing you lose is your endurance, your speed and explosion,” Markgraf said. “I kicked the ball against the wall my entire pregnancy so technically, I’m OK, but once you have the baby, your body changes so much.”

Markgraf, known at Kate Sobrero when she played on the 1999 World Cup winning team, didn’t expect to be called back to the until January. But she has now played in five games since giving birth, including three games here. The 30-year-old played in her first game back on Oct. 1 against Chinese Taipei, almost exactly a year after she left the team for her pregnancy.

“For the first 20 minutes, I’ll be great on the field just like my old self, but after that I can’t will myself to what I used to do,” Markgraf said. “I got depressed at first, but then I looked at my baby and realized I was lucky to be still playing.”

If Markgraf needs inspiration or help she only has to ask fellow defender Christie (Pearce) Rampone, 31, who is also in Korea with her baby — daughter Rylie.

Rampone missed all of 2005 but has played 17 games this year and is looking back to her old form. Markgraf lasted 65 minutes in Thursday’s game before being replaced by Rampone.

“Kate is in the beginning stages of getting back to full fitness,” coach Greg Ryan said. “She playing fantastic for someone who just had a baby three months ago.”

As an assistant coach at Harvard, Markgraf was eager to return. She began running 10 days after giving birth. Three weeks later, she was having her first training sessions.

Markgraf has played 151 times for the U.S. team, and is only one of four players, along with Rampone, Kristine Lilly and Briana Scurry, left from the 1999 World Cup winning team that charmed the nation. She was famous for dying her hair bright red in that tournament after losing a bet.

“I’ve lived a storybook career,” said Markgraf, a star at Notre Dame. “Players like Kristine Lilly and Joy Fawcett from the 1999 team, were on my wall when I was in high school. Then I got to play with them. Then I got friendly with them and then I got to learn from them.”

Markgraf, who played every minute of all six games at the 2004 Athens Olympics to help the team win the gold medal, says she wants to play in the World Cup in China next year and in the 2008 Olympics.

“It would be great for my son to see that,” she said.

The second-ranked U.S. team reached today’s final in Seoul with a 1-1 tie with Denmark and 2-0 wins over Australia and the Netherlands. Canada reached the final with wins over Italy (3-2), South Korea (3-1) and Brazil (4-2).

“It’s funny,” Ryan said. “We come all the way to Korea and get to play Canada in the final.”

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