Megan Rapinoe, a trailblazing soccer player on and off the field, hung up her boots on Saturday. She bid farewell in San Diego, at the age of 38, in the final of the American league, the NWSL, defending her team, OL Reign from Seattle, against Gotham FC from New Jersey. Her soccer career has been filled with triumphs, but fate dealt her an unlucky hand in the lead up to her retirement. In her last official match with the national team, she missed the decisive penalty shot and the United States was eliminated from the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. In her last club game, on Saturday, she was injured two minutes into the game and could no longer continue playing. In the end, her team lost 1-2 against Gotham, which is coached by the Spanish Juan Carlos Amorós.
After being injured, Rapinoe laughed nervously on the grass. She couldn’t believe what was happening to her. The match had only just begun. She had already made a pass that almost ended in a goal. But in the 2.25 minute, when Gotham took the ball from behind, Rapinoe slipped while going to recapture the ball and injured herself. The legendary player remained lying while the assists arrived, but she held her hand on her ankle and was aware that she would not be able to continue. The public at the Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego said goodbye to her with a standing ovation, but also with some disappointment.
The American star watched the final from the bench. From there, she saw how Lynn Williams scored in the 24th minute after a great run by Margaret Purce, which put Gotham ahead. Rosa Lavelle equalized for OL Reign five minutes later in a quick attack, taking advantage of a space left open by the rival center backs. In extra time of the first half, Esther González scored with a header in what ended up being the decisive goal. Veronica Latsko missed a one-on-one in the 60th minute that would have tied the game after another Gotham defensive breakdown. Goalkeeper Mandy McGlynn saved her team.
The champion title is a success for the Spanish Juan Carlos Amorós, who a few days ago was recognized as the best coach of the year in the NWSL. Amorós began his career as a women’s soccer coach at the English club Tottenham Hotspur and coached Betis in the 2021-2022 season before starting his American adventure. After leading the Houston Dash to their first entry in the playoffs as interim coach last year, Amorós signed a three-year contract with Gotham FC in November 2022. The team NWSL was ranked last year with 17 losses in 22 games, but Amorós made them champions.
At the same time as Rapinoe, Gotham said goodbye to another player who has marked an era in American women’s soccer, center Ali Krieger, 39.
Proud and smiling
At the press conference the day before, Rapinoe remarked that she could walk away smiling and proud for her entire career. “I’ve always tried to play the game the right way, always tried to enjoy it,” she said. “At the end of the day, I feel like we are in the entertainment business and especially in a growing sport and a growing league, I feel like that’s really important. I’ve always tried to make things better and I just walk away so proud and so happy of not only my contributions to the game but the era that I’ve played in. Knowing that the game is in such a better place and that’s testament to all the players that have played in this generation and played in this league, some of us playing with the national team [...] This league was insane this year, it was so much fun to watch and be a part of, all the storylines, so I feel like I get to walk away just smiling no matter what and really proud of my entire career.”
The player, who was born in Redding, California, has achieved fewer titles in her club career than with the national team. In 2013, she won the French league and cup with Olympique Lyonnais, but did not win the Champions League. In Seattle, where she has been playing for the last 10 years, the team has come in first place in the regular league three times, but it lost the title in the 2014 and 2015 finals against FC Kansas City and the third time it lost in the semifinals. Saturday was Rapinoe’s last chance to be a NWSL champion.
With the USA team, meanwhile, she won gold in the 2012 Olympic Games, was runner-up in the 2011 World Cup (after losing the final on penalties) and won the 2015 and 2019 World Cups. In the latter she was the top scorer, the best player in the tournament overall and the best player in three of the matches, including the final. Rapinoe became the global image of her sport, especially with the iconic image of celebrating a goal in the final with her arms outstretched and her lilac hair. She was chosen the Best Player of 2019 by FIFA and received the Ballon d’Or, being the first footballer in history to achieve both awards.
Beyond her successes on the field, Rapinoe has left an even greater legacy for her personal commitment to women’s soccer, which elevates her above other brilliant players of her generation. She has been a tireless activist in favor of minorities and equality and recognition of women’s soccer. In 2022, President Joe Biden awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor. She had been at odds with his predecessor, Donald Trump.
She was one of 28 players who sued the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) in 2019 for discrimination in a Los Angeles court, demanding equal pay with the men’s team. As a result of that lawsuit, the American Federation announced in May 2022 separate agreements with the associations of soccer players of both sexes so that the men’s and women’s teams would earn the same amount.
She gained national attention for kneeling during the national anthem at an international game in September 2016 in solidarity with NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who had initiated the gesture as a protest against racism and discrimination.
Rapinoe has also been an activist and defender of LGBTQ+ rights. In 2012, weeks before the London Olympics, Rapinoe publicly revealed that she was lesbian in an interview for Out magazine, in which she indicated that she had been in a relationship with Australian soccer player Sarah Walsh since 2009. After almost five years together, they broke up in 2013. Rapinoe and artist Sera Cahoone announced they were getting married in August 2015, but ended up breaking off their engagement. Subsequently, she began a new relationship with basketball player Sue Bird, a five-time Olympic champion with the United States basketball team, who was in a box seat for San Diego’s game on Saturday.
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