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Rapinoe: ‘Sick joke’ that I missed a penalty in my last game

Megan Rapinoe couldn’t help but notice the irony in the situation. For many years, she had been the reliable penalty-kick taker for the United States women’s national team, the player entrusted with staying composed and delivering in one of the most pressure-filled moments in sports.

Scoring from 12 yards out in a penalty kick situation typically has an 80 percent success rate. But when a game is on the line, within a packed stadium, and with millions watching at home, it requires nerves of steel to step up to the spot, face a goalkeeper who has studied your tendencies, and meet the expectation of success.

Throughout her illustrious career, Rapinoe had consistently demonstrated composure in such moments. So, it felt almost automatic that the 38-year-old would convert her penalty attempt during Sunday’s shootout against Sweden, which ultimately led to the USWNT’s exit from the 2023 Women’s World Cup in the round of 16 – a historic departure as it marked the first time the team failed to reach at least the semifinals of the tournament.

However, when the opportunity arose to put her team on the verge of advancing to the quarterfinals, Rapinoe surprisingly sent her shot high over Zecira Musovic’s crossbar. This unexpected miss was difficult to fathom for anyone familiar with her track record, including Rapinoe herself. It was almost painfully ironic.

Rapinoe remarked, “That feels like a cruel joke. That’s why I had that smile on my face. I couldn’t believe it. I’m going to miss a penalty? I mean, honestly, I can’t remember the last time I missed.”

The last and only time she had missed a penalty in her nearly two-decade-long career was almost five years ago in an NWSL match, and the goalkeeper who saved it was her current teammate, U.S. backup Aubrey Kingsbury. Since then, Rapinoe had consistently remained calm and collected from the spot.

She had notably scored from penalty kicks three times in the World Cup four years ago in France, contributing to the U.S. team’s consecutive World Cup victories, including the game-winning penalty in the final against the Netherlands. From a purely statistical perspective, however, her streak of success was bound to come to an end at some point.

Unfortunately for her and her team, that moment arrived at the worst possible time. Despite the setback, Rapinoe’s incredible contributions to the USWNT and women’s sports as a whole cannot be diminished.

Rapinoe is undeniably one of the greatest players in the history of women’s soccer. Across four World Cups, she reached three finals and lifted the trophy twice. She is also an Olympic gold medalist and was awarded the Golden Ball as the World Cup’s MVP in 2019, in addition to the Golden Boot as its top scorer and the Ballon d’Or at year’s end.

Beyond her on-field accomplishments, Rapinoe made a significant impact off the field, elevating the profile of women’s soccer and advocating successfully for equal pay. She remains a beloved figure within the U.S. locker room, where her teammates look up to her with admiration.

Several of them became emotional when discussing Rapinoe after the Sunday match. U.S. forward Lynn Williams expressed, “I don’t think there’s enough words to talk about Megan and her impact on this sport, from equality to human rights, the list goes on and on. So that’s going to sting a little bit, not seeing her on this team and wearing the crest anymore.”

Co-captain Lindsey Horan fought back tears when asked about her conversation with Rapinoe after the missed penalty, simply stating, “Just that I love her. ‘That sucks’ – I think that’s all we said to each other.”

Alex Morgan, the USWNT’s other captain, expressed gratitude to Rapinoe for her contributions throughout the years.

While Rapinoe isn’t quite done yet, as she will continue playing until the end of the OL Reign’s NWSL season this fall, and she is set to have at least one more international match as part of a proper send-off arranged by U.S. Soccer during one of the USWNT’s friendlies this fall. Despite the uncertainty surrounding her plans beyond that, it is unlikely that she will fade completely from the public eye.

Williams mentioned, “I can’t wait to see what she’s going to do in her next life, her next career. I can only imagine what she’s going to do now that she has all the time in the world.”

One thing is certain: Sunday’s missed penalty will be a minor footnote in her remarkable career.

Rapinoe summed it up by saying, “It doesn’t take away anything about this experience or my career in general. Obviously, there’s the immediate disappointment of being out of the tournament, but I think just in general, I’m okay. I’m ready in a lot of ways to go, to be done, and I feel at peace with that.”

While it might not have been the ideal way to conclude her international career, Rapinoe’s legacy as a soccer legend and advocate for women’s sports remains firmly intact.

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