At her final press conference as a United States national team player, a journalist told Megan Rapinoe had split women’s soccer into two eras – one before her, and one after.
Ahead of her 203rd and final match in the United States shirt tonight, a career in which she has won Olympic Gold and two Women’s World Cups, she is proud that she will be remembered as much for her game-changing impact off the pitch as much as her stellar contributions on it.
When asked at what point in her career she realized the potential she had as a women’s soccer player to push for change within the game and in the wider world, Rapinoe went back to the last-minute cross she provided for an Abby Wambach goal in the 2011 Women’s World Cup quarter-final as the moment that the perception of women’s soccer in the United States changed forever.
“I realized pretty early on the kind of energy that exists when you say something and it’s gets puts in the media. I think my experience of coming out just after the (2011) World Cup, leading into the Olympics was a big one in the reaction that I got, whether that was people coming up to me saying how much that meant to them or gave them space to come out.”
“I think I realized right then, as the popularity of the team started to grow that people came to see us not just for what we were doing on the field, they came to see themselves in us. So how could we use that, and how could we use the growing platform to fight for ourselves, but also fight for other people.”
“I think coming home from that first World Cup was a really eye-opening experience. When we left, I think there was 7,000 people at Red Bull (Stadium, for the last pre-tournament match). When we came back after not winning the World Cup, being on all the morning shows and realizing that the game had changed very dramatically for everyone in this country, for women’s soccer. So, it’s kind of a combination, kind of an evolution, but if I had to pinpoint one thing, it was probably that cross.”
Rapinoe’s World Cup career ended last month in ignominious fashion with a missed penalty kick in the shoot-out defeat to Sweden, the United States’ earliest-ever elimination at the tournament. Yet, despite attracting controversy throughout her international career, Rapinoe insists she would not have changed a thing.
“I don’t know if I have any regrets. I really don’t. That’s not to save I haven’t made plenty of mistakes. I’ve not always got everything right. I don’t really have a lot of regrets. I feel like I got the most out of my career. I feel like I did my absolute best, maximized my talent and given gifts.”
“I’ve had so much fun – enjoyed and celebrated along the way. I think that’s probably why I feel so at peace. Again, I don’t think I’ve done everything right but I’ve done everything the way I wanted to and feel like I’ve got really got the most out of this career that I possibly could have gotten.”
“In terms of the highest moments? That’s tough! London 2012 was amazing, that was my first major world championship. That meant everything, especially being so close the year before to be finally able to win and growing up being such a fan of the Olympics and having that sort of nostalgia in there. Just remembering what it was like to watch the Olympics and watch people win Gold medals and athletes be in that kind of arena. To do it in an incredible game, huge stadium, obviously at Wembley and tons of fans. To be able to win that first championship was very special.”
“Obviously the two World Cup wins – incredibly special. 2019, just to couple a once-in-a-career personal performance with a team performance, with our fight off the field, obviously equal pay being a big part of that. I think in the years prior to that, us being so vocal about racial justice and gay rights and feeling like the team really stepped into a new era of being itself and really took upon itself to be so much more than what we were on the field and really focus on that. That was just incredibly special and I don’t think anything could ever really live up to that. I think those were some of my best moments in this jersey at least.”
After tonight’s final international appearance against South Africa in Chicago, Rapinoe will play out the remainder of the NWSL season with OL Reign before hanging up her boots after a 14-year professional career. Asked how she thought she would occupy her time, Rapinoe saw herself working as an ambassador for women’s sport.
“I mean I’m so excited to continue to be a part of the growth of women’s sports, not just in soccer. I feel like we are in a really special time. I feel like I’m uniquely suited and very much know how to talk about women’s sports to brands”
“I feel like we did it – like ‘we’re living in the future, so let us just have the keys!’ I hope to be a big part of that kind of business-building and marketing and branding of women’s sports. I don’t want necessarily to be tied to one thing or one organization but looking to use my platform and the leverage that I have now, pretty similar to how I do now, I will just have a lot more free time to do so.”