(Photo Copyright Sam Greene, The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK)
Megan Rapinoe will play one last game for the United States women’s national team against South Africa on Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago.
She still has at least a few weeks left in her professional career with OL Reign (we’ll get to that soon), so for now, we want to spotlight some of the biggest moments of her U.S. career, which is the reason she is so well known globally. This is a brief ode to one of the greats.
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2011 World Cup quarterfinal: The cross heard ‘round the world
The explosion in popularity of the USWNT over the past decade might never have happened without the 2011 World Cup. That tournament was the catalyst, and Rapinoe was a protagonist in the moment that sparked it all.
The U.S. made it to the 2011 final after squeaking by Brazil in a penalty shootout in the quarterfinal. The Americans got to the shootout in the first place via one of the all-time World Cup miracles: a 122nd-minute equalizer from Abby Wambach. Rapinoe delivered the cross to Wambach’s head with pinpoint accuracy.
That singular moment embodied the Americans’ never-say-die attitude and captured the attention of a nation. Rapinoe and Wambach talked about how they came home and people were congratulating them for winning the World Cup, even though they had lost to Japan in the final. Obviously, mass fandom was not yet too engaged, but the groundwork was laid for 2015 and the explosion that came four years after that.
2019: Rapinoe’s shining moment
Rapinoe is best known for the 2019 World Cup, in which she scored six goals (tied for most in the tournament) and won the Golden Ball as the best player in the tournament. Perhaps the best of those goals — or the most important — came in the semifinal against France, when she beat goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi at the near post on a smart, confident free kick that epitomized her ingenuity.
She was equally famous for her fight off the field, taking on then-U.S. President Donald Trump in a fierce public battle that put significant pressure on Rapinoe and teammates. They backed it up by winning the tournament.
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2016: The kneel
Rapinoe said on Saturday that her off-field legacy was as important as what she did on the field, which included two World Cup triumphs. Her decision to kneel for the national anthem in 2016 put her career in jeopardy. It helped further the conversation around social injustices in the United States, and it forced some hard conversations within U.S. Soccer.
After initial pushback from the federation — and even a new rule, later redacted, that all U.S. Soccer personnel must stand for the anthem — the federation became more open to the women’s national team’s push for systemic societal changes. Part of that change of tune had to do with a battle around equal pay that the federation was losing in the court of public opinion. Rapinoe was a leading figure in that, too.
2012 Olympic semifinal: The Olimpico
One of Rapinoe’s most famous goals came against rival Canada in the most ridiculously entertaining game the teams have ever contested. Rapinoe scored directly off a corner kick — an Olimpico — as part of a controversial, back-and-forth affair that the U.S. eventually won 4-3 in extra time behind a 123rd-minute goal from Alex Morgan.
Rapinoe would repeat the Olimpico nine years later at the Tokyo Games. She is believed to be the only player to have scored Olimpicos at two different Games. Audacious.