The American superstar will remain an icon despite seeing a potential fairy-tale World Cup turn into a nightmare
Women’s soccer has never seen anyone quite like Megan Rapinoe. Hell, the world in general hasn’t either. For more than a decade, the United States women’s national team star has been a lightning rod of attention and a fireball of a player, one that has transcended the game she plays and the country she calls homeThis summer, though, was her curtain call, her last dance. Not from the bright lights, of course, as Rapinoe will no doubt remain part of pop culture long beyond this summer’s World Cup Down Under. The USWNT star isn’t going away, that’s for sure. There isn’t anything in the world that could truly silence her.
No, Rapinoe, the celebrity, will continue on. As will Rapinoe, the activist. Rapinoe, the player? Well, her days are numbered. Prior to this summer’s event, Rapinoe announced that this World Cup would be her last as she intends to retire at the end of 2023. At age 38, the time has come.She’ll leave the game as one of its most decorated players, with two World Cup triumphs, an Olympic Gold Medal, a World Cup Golden Ball, a World Cup Golden Boot, a Ballon d’Or and a FIFA Best Women’s Player award, just to name a few. It didn’t end the way she would have liked, as her penalty soared into the sky at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium against Sweden, proving that even a star as big as Rapinoe doesn’t often get the chance to write their own ending.
On and off the field, Rapinoe has been a dynamo, a superstar unlike any we’ve ever seen. From the bright hair to the aura of defiance that has so often been stamped out of a less politically-inclined sports landscape, Rapinoe is a one-of-one.
“I’m exactly what they’re familiar and comfortable with, just packaged up differently,” she recently told TIME. “I’m exactly the brash, arrogant athlete that Americans love.” And though her time as that athlete is coming to an end, Rapinoe’s legacy on the field is secure as she’s solidified her spot as one of the game’s most important players.An important announcement
Rapinoe didn’t want it to linger. She didn’t want her team dealing with speculation or questions or uncertainty. So, instead, she just came out and said it. She’s retiring.
The announcement came via U.S. Soccer, who released a lengthy statement hailing Rapinoe’s accomplishments. World Cup champion, Ballon d’Or winner, LGBTQ+ icon… the list went on and on.
And that’s basically what Rapinoe wanted to avoid: dragging this whole process on and on. She knew the questions would come about her future. She knew that, if she didn’t answer them, her team-mates would be asked them, too. So, to turn the focus back toward the World Cup, she got ahead of it all.
“Obviously I’m 38 years old, I’m not going to be playing forever and it just always feels weird for me to have something settled and feel at peace and to not answer a question honestly,” Rapinoe said. “I kind of wanted to have that for myself.
“I think it allows me to focus a lot more, allows the team to focus a lot more. We don’t have to get questions every time, every single game. It’s just kind of out there and I can just really enjoy it and focus on trying to win the tournament.”
Still, despite Rapinoe’s intentions, her team-mates still had plenty to say about her impending exit.A tearful goodbye
Kelley O’Hara started off pretty strong, to her credit. She was full of praise for Rapinoe and what she’s meant to the USWNT program. By the end, though, O’Hara’s strength was failing a bit. The voice started cracking a bit as the tears began to flow. From the outside, it seemed that, in that moment, it began to hit her.
“It’s hard to put into words, honestly,” O’Hara said. “I know that the world sees the Megan Rapinoe that the world sees, but we get to see her up close and personal. The Pinoe that the world sees is an incredible person and human, and that is her up close and personal as well. She brings a sense of humor and lightness, but intensity and empathy.
“She’s one of a kind. There’s never been anyone like her, and there’s probably never gonna be one close to her, so it’s sad to think about this being her last, but she’s done such incredible things for this team and for the world, so to be able to see the up close and personal Pinoe and be close to that has been really special, and I hope that we can send her out on a high.”
That sentiment was largely echoed by Alex Morgan, Rapinoe’s team-mate at four World Cups, with this most recent run serving as their final adventure together.
“She’s been an advocate for this team. She’s been a backbone for this team,” said Morgan. “Whether it’s going through the equal pay fight, standing up for marginalized communities, she’s someone who is going to stand up for that when it’s not always a popular opinion…She’s true to herself. That’s from the beginning when I met her until now. She says what she thinks, she means what she says. You have to love her for that.”
Kristie Mewis, meanwhile, did her best before the tournament to convince Rapinoe to stay on for one more cycle. The USWNT might have needed her, after all. “Honestly, she’s just such a presence,” Mewis said. “That’s how I would describe her. She’s just such a presence on this team.”
Rapinoe isn’t staying. This was it, her last World Cup.