Friday, December 1, 2023

Megan Rapinoe’s top 10 moments: Ahead of her last USWNT match, the highlights that defined a storied career

The long farewell to Megan Rapinoe has been in effect since she announced her impending retirement ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Her announcement that she would step away from playing professionally at the conclusion of her NWSL season has provided a deadline to recognize all her soccer accomplishments. Multiple club titles, Olympic medals, two World Cup championships, and even a Presidential Medal of Freedom are just some of the notables.

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Her outspoken personal political views and achievements alongside social movements can nearly match her long list of soccer honors. A career that has spanned multiple cycles, and different positions, with an impact on and off the pitch, Rapinoe is undoubtedly leaving the game better than when she found it. 

Here’s a list of some of her most iconic moments:

10. The All-American girl has cool hair


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In between her advocacy for social justice and winning the highest honors in soccer, Rapinoe has done it all while staying as authentic to herself as possible. Her iconic hairstyles in different eras, the Purple dyed run during the 2019 World Cup, and expressing herself through fashion, are all ways she stood out on and off the field. Her bravado was years in the making, well-earned and deserved, and will be missed in soccer. 

9. An “olympico” at the Olympics

Rapinoe made Olympic history when she scored an Olympico — a goal scored directly from the corner flag — at the tournament. She’s the first woman to accomplish the difficult finish, and it came during one of the most memorable matches of the Summer Games. It was one of seven goals scored in a back-and-forth slugfest between the United States and Canada that needed extra time to determine a winner. After the semifinal, USA won the Gold Medal against Japan in the final.

Rapinoe did it again in the Tokyo Games, becoming the only woman to score two olympicos at the tournament. She scored the goal in the opening minutes of the Bronze medal match against Australia and ended the game with two goals scored in the 4-3 win over Australia. The victory meant a return to the Olympic podium for the program after their knockout round elimination in 2016.

8. Forever Reign

Rapinoe has a legendary club career that spans multiple international domestic leagues, including two iterations in the United States. She has played for Chicago Red Stars, Philadelphia Independence, and Magicjack, in the WPS era. She even had a brief club spell in Australia’s W-League with Sydney FC as a guest player. She took her talents to Europe after the league folded with Olympique Lyon where she became the fifth American woman to play in a UEFA Women’s Champions League final.  

She made her return to the United States as the NWSL was established in 2013 and was allocated to Seattle Reign FC. Though the club has gone through different rebrands, she has never played for another club team and will retire with OL Reign at the end of their season. She’s won three NWSL Sheilds with the club, made two NWSL Championship finals, and has been named to second and first-team honors five times.   

7. Villan Era

Longevity in NWSL provided the league with its most organic rivalry ever, between Seattle and Portland Thorns FC often referred to as the Cascadian rivalry. The two Pacific Northwest sides are geographically close, and that’s about the end of their similarities. Now the longest rivalry in the league, it hasn’t been without signature moments from one of the Reign’s biggest stars. Rapinoe’s most recent goal against the Thorns came in 2021, where she had plenty to say about the rivalry after the game.

“Obviously the Thorns fans need no introduction — they’re incredible,” Rapinoe said after the game. “They have one big problem, though. It’s that they love me, so it’s really difficult for them to cheer against me. So when I scored, I had to go right over and talk my shit.’

“I was trying to talk shit and to [Portland fans] and they just did not know what to do. And then finally somebody gave me a big, double f— you middle fingers up and I was like ‘That’s what I’m talking about! That’s the kind of rivalry that we want!'”

6. Kneeling

In September 2016, Rapinoe knelt during the anthem on the sideline of an NWSL match against the Chicago Red Stars. In a moment that can be considered a reintroduction of the athlete to the general public outside of soccer interests, her actions that evening in the Chicago suburb stadium dominated headlines and images quicker than her 2011 cross to Wambach in the World Cup. When asked about it after the game, she explained it was intentional and in solidarity with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protests.   

“It was very intentional,” Rapinoe said back then during postgame. “It was a little nod to Kaepernick and everything that he’s standing for right now. I think it’s actually pretty disgusting the way he was treated and the way that a lot of the media has covered it and made it about something that it absolutely isn’t. We need to have a more thoughtful, two-sided conversation about racial issues in this country.” 

“Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties. It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it. It’s important to have white people stand in support of people of color on this. We don’t need to be the leading voice, of course, but standing in support of them is something that’s really powerful.” 

She eventually continued the protest during U.S. national team games, as the much larger stage meant more eyeballs on the message. Ultimately her efforts were seen as brave by some, and divisive by others, and eventually, U.S. Soccer implemented a policy, later dubbed “The Rapinoe Rule”,  requiring players to stand during the national anthem.  

In 2020, U.S. Soccer issued an apology to “Black players – staff, fans, and all who support eradicating racism,” and The USSF board of directors voted to repeal the 2017 policy that required national team players to stand during the national anthem. 


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5. Coming out ahead of 2012 Olympics 

“You can’t win without gays” is one of many quotes now made famous by Rapinoe. There have been multiple players across different U.S. national team eras who are gay and played on the team, but Rapinoe is the first to publicly come out while actively playing on the team. She shared the news in July 2012 with Out magazine just ahead of the London Olympics. 

Her courage and willingness to be vulnerable immediately sent a message to LGBTQ+ youth across the globe that it’s okay to be who you are. 

4. “I’m not going to the f—ing White House” 

A legendary quote during a photoshoot ahead of the 2019 World Cup, Rapinoe was asked about possibly attending the White House in a World Cup year, when President Trump was in office and responded firmly. She further explained, “No, I’m not going to the White House. We’re not going to get invited. I doubt it.” 

Her honest answer set in motion further reactions from the former President, who is currently battling four indictments, as he posted on social media that she should “WIN before speaking.” The comments set in motion one of the most iconic tournament performances from a player at a World Cup.

3. Equal Pay

She’s been vocal about pay equity for women as the national team had previously been in dispute, and later litigation, against U.S. Soccer on the issue. She was one of five players in 2016 to originally file an equal pay complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Ahead of the 2019 World Cup, the players filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer in the United States District Court in Los Angeles.

A years-long battle in court was eventually settled in 2022 after players filed an EEOC complaint over inequality in pay and treatment. U.S. Soccer ultimately agreed to a landmark settlement of $24 million in back pay owed to female players, and ultimately both men’s and women’s national teams came to terms on a historic new collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer through 2028 that includes equal FIFA prize money among other benefits.

2. That hail mary at the 2011 World Cup 

Before the 2015 and 2019 World Cup titles, the 2011 squad got the USWNT back to a World Cup final for the first time since 1999. The two cycles previous cycles the U.S. settled for third-place matches, and the pressure was mounting for a program on the hunt for another title. First, the team had to get through Brazil in the quarterfinal, and as the team was trailing 2-1 in the second overtime, Rapinoe delivered the cross heard across social media.  

Her long ball into the box connected with Abby Wambach for an equalizer and the team advanced on penalties. The moment was one of the most viral in the social media era and was a launch pad for the team’s popularity in a new generation.

1. 2019 World Cup Golden Ball performance 

Rapinoe continued to field questions about the former president’s comments, and the team kept winning during the tournament. Just five minutes into the quarterfinal against tournament host France, she scored the opening goal off a free kick, and delivered her most recognizable goal celebration. Rapinoe exited the tournament with her second World Cup title, six goals scored for Golden Boot honors, and the Golden Ball award.

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