Megan Rapinoe, the iconic soccer star who transcended her sport to become one of the most outspoken, accomplished, and dynamic athletes of her generation, didn’t want to wait until the end to say that this season would be the end.
She was not going to play match after match at the Women’s World Cup, which begins later this month in Australia and New Zealand, as she was set to retire at the end of this year, after her last major tournament with the United States. and her final season for her professional team. In perfect Rapinoe fashion, there was simply no way she would remain silent about something so important to her.
So at a press conference Saturday ahead of Sunday’s US game against Wales in San Jose, Calif., Rapinoe, 38, declared it was time to say goodbye.
“I just want to say thank you everyone,” she said to a room full of reporters as the USA team prepares to fly to New Zealand for the Women’s World Cup. “I could never have imagined where this beautiful game would take me.” She described playing for the national team as “the greatest thing I’ve ever done”.
After 17 years on Team USA and nearly as many years speaking out in support of many causes including LGBTQ rights, equal pay, the Black Lives Matter movement, and voter rights, Rapinoe will be playing in her fourth Women’s World Cup and her final season at the Women’s National. football League. She said she feels at peace and grateful that she can finish her career on her own terms, and on top of her sport as well.
During Rapinoe’s career filled with notable roller material on and off the court, she played in 199 matches for the national team and scored 63 goals for the United States. She is a three-time Olympian who won a gold medal with her team at the London 2012 Olympics. And it seems that at exactly the time when her team needed it most, she hit up clutch plays, making her mark as a creative and dangerous striker.
There is perhaps no greater example of her ability to perform under pressure than when she scored two goals in the quarter-final against France at the 2019 World Cup. Her goals came just days after she criticized former President Donald J. Trump on Twitter for her stance that she would not go to the White House. Trump if her team wins the championship.
Trump said, “Meghan has to win first before she speaks! Get the job done!”
But Rapinoe did not flinch. In the fifth minute of that match against France, she scored from a free kick and ran to the corner of the field, stretching her arms wide and enjoying the crowd’s applause. Sporting violet-dyed hair that changed color often with the season, she scored again in the second half to lead the team to the semi-finals, a 2-1 victory. The Americans went on to win this world title, their second in a row.
Rapinoe was stunning on the field in 2019. She won the Ballon d’Or as FIFA Women’s Player of the Year. Her six World Cup goals helped her win the Golden Boot as top scorer and the Golden Ball as best player.
“She’s just an amazing player who has done so much for this program, so much for soccer in general,” said longtime Rapinoe teammate Alex Morgan. “I’m really happy for her that she’s going out with a bang, hopefully.”
“Now we have to go win it all,” she added.
Rapinoe said she’s especially grateful that her body held up after all these years, but that she was on “a little bit of lost time.” Like most elite athletes who have been around for nearly two decades, she has been plagued by injuries.
This season, Rapinoe was dealing with an ankle injury and due to a calf injury missed two friendlies with Ireland in April. Even if it’s less than 100 percent, her leadership will be key to a relatively inexperienced US team with 14 World Cup juniors on its 23-man roster. Many of them worshiped Rapinoe when they were growing up, and they still do.
“It’s all for her,” defenseman Crystal Dunn said, adding that Rapinoe has been an inspiration to her throughout her career.
“She’s someone I look up to and lean on from time to time about random things, not even football-related,” said Dunn. “I think she’s someone you’ve always wanted in your corner.”
It’s those random things and “little things” that Rapinoe said she will remember and miss the most. Like the feeling when she walks into the locker room after a championship game to see the lockers covered in canvas in anticipation of a wild champagne celebration, or the excitement of seeing her teammates join the squad after they finish their maternity leave.
Or what it’s like to compete in the Olympics: Her retirement this year means she won’t play in Paris 2024 next summer. “There are certain things in the game that I think you just have to cry when you walk away,” she said.
Rapinoe will try to keep all those feelings at bay now that news of her retirement is behind her and the final moments of her career are at hand. She said she can now focus on winning the World Cup without any distraction.
One thing she learned “very, very early on,” Rapinoe said, is that “if there’s only one second on a clock, that’s enough time.”
Claire Fahey Reported from San Jose, California.