When Megan Rapinoe was allocated to the Seattle Reign months before the inaugural NWSL season kicked off in 2013, she was not pleased, to say the least. She had a fondness for Portland after spending her college years there, and matters only became worse when, following the conclusion of her loan spell at Olympique Lyonnais, she joined a team that was winless after 10 games and sitting at the bottom of the league table.
And yet, she said she immediately found herself at home with the Reign.
“Immediately, when I joined the team, it just felt like exactly where I wanted to be,” Rapinoe said on Thursday ahead of her final regular season home game with the team, now called the OL Reign. “It just immediately clicked and I felt really at home on the field, I felt comfortable just within the group. … Right away I was growing and being challenged and understood what my role was and could see a real future here.”
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Just as quickly as Rapinoe felt comfortable, the results followed. She scored five goals in 12 games and the following season, the Reign won the first of three NWSL Shields collected over the past decade. There’s one trophy that the Reign have yet to collect during that time — the NWSL championship — and it’s that prize the team eyes. Friday’s game (8 p.m. ET | CBS) will double as a celebration of Rapinoe’s career and an important step as the Reign aim to secure a postseason berth, and hopefully the league’s top prize.
“That’s the idea, right? That’s really the script everybody wants, myself included,” she said. “There’s obviously one thing that’s eluded us in the time that we’ve been here. I would love to be in the playoffs, love to continue to play those meaningful games. That’s the whole point of all of this, so that would mean everything to be able to be in a position to try to challenge for that and continue to get the most out of everything until the very end.”
As Rapinoe reflects on her 10-year spell in the Seattle area, it’s hard for her to lose focus on the bigger picture. Her time with the Reign is not solely defined by the on-field successes, but rather the sense of self she has developed while on the club’s books.
“I love sports and I love soccer and I’ve loved playing, but that’s not the point of life,” she said. “It’s a vehicle that we get to use because of this incredible talent that we were born with, but I think for me, using that to affect change in a larger way.”
Reign head coach Laura Harvey, who was also there for the team’s first season, recalls how rapidly she began to demand a higher standard at the club and in the league.
“I think from the early days of the Reign, where we had nothing, we were always trying to fight for more and I think we always knew that the most powerful voice in the room was Pinoe,” Harvey said. “The thing that I’ve always loved is that she never shied away from that. She was always willing to put herself in front of all of the bollocks that everyone was willing to throw at her to try and better the club internally, better the facilities for the players, better the resources for the players and then externally, what everyone sees that [she] became the global icon that she is.”
Rapinoe noted that her activism came out of necessity because of the historic oppression of women’s sports.
“First of all, as athletes in women’s sports, we don’t get to define success by winning and we never have,” she said. “it also has, by necessity, made us think bigger and think how to not only be the absolute best that we can be on the field but make our communities better, make the world a better place, make our sport better, challenge ourselves to be better and challenge everybody else around us to be better. I think that’s my marker of success is how much better is it for everyone?”
She noted the growth of the NWSL, something she helped spearhead but was in no way alone in doing so. The league has made incredible strides through its on-field product, but also through a business lens and professional standards for the players in it.
“Just looking at the league over the last 11 years and where we are now, I think just women’s sports in general and not just in soccer in this country, is in such a better place,” she said. “I think just conditions for players are in a better place. I think the space that we have fought for to be our full selves on and off the pitch is a marker of our success. I think there’s commercial success. I think there’s media success. I think there’s on-field success. We’ve really, I think, done it all and I think it’s really an exciting time for women’s sports because we’re just at the very beginning where we’re starting to get the respect and the investment that we really need to allow us to reach our full potential. … I wish my career was starting now. It’d certainly be a lot better.”
It means that, ultimately, she and other players of her generation made incredible accomplishments outside of wins and losses that resulted in remarkably fulfilling careers.
“I think a lot of players in our generation look at our careers and this particular time as a raging success because we’ve been able to do everything that we want and try to do on the field but also couple that with really, in a tangible way, seeing the world become a better place around us,” she noted.
The Reign fostered an environment in which Rapinoe became the version of herself that is so familiar to the public — an advocate for herself and others, but also a person who does so with complete authenticity. Rapinoe credited Harvey’s leadership style — “she doesn’t really care about bullshit that doesn’t need to be cared about” — with helping her grow into the person she is today, but Rapinoe also repaid the favor.
“I was a young coach when I came here,” Harvey, a native of England, said while fighting back tears. “I was 32 and I’d never lived authentically, really. I think being around someone like Pinoe … she gives you the platform to think you can be whatever you want.”
It makes the Reign farewell particularly emotional for Rapinoe. Seattle became an unlikely home for her, full with all the trappings — she met her fiancee, retired WNBA legend Sue Bird, in the city and the two enjoy the familiarity of local eateries where the staff know their names. The two plan to live at least part-time in Seattle following Rapinoe’s retirement, but Friday’s game marks an official end to an important chapter in her life.
“It feels very different” than her send-off with the U.S. women’s national team in Chicago last month. “I think with the national team, it’s an ever-changing roster and even coaches that I had or staff that I had. Everybody is different, even than just a few years ago so it felt like more saying goodbye to an institution or something bigger than just one team.
“This feels like I’m saying goodbye to my team, I’m saying goodbye to my coach, I’m saying goodby to so many players that I’ve played with for a long time,” she added. “I hope I can keep it together tomorrow but you can run and cry at the same time so I’ll just try to do my best to do both. This one definitely feels closer to home and closer to my heart.”