Megan Rapinoe, the iconic soccer star who has transcended her sport to become one of the most outspoken, accomplished and dynamic athletes of her generation, didn’t want to wait until the end to say this season would be the end.
She wasn’t going to play game after game at the women’s World Cup, which starts later this month in Australia and New Zealand, holding it in that she would retire after her last big tournament for the United States and her last season for her professional team. In perfect Rapinoe fashion, there was no way she could remain silent about something important to her.
So unexpectedly, at a news conference on Saturday ahead of Sunday’s U.S. game against Wales in San Jose, Calif., Rapinoe, 38, said it was time to say goodbye.
“I just want to say thank you to everybody,” she told a room full of reporters as the U.S. team prepares to fly to New Zealand for the Women’s World Cup. “I could have never imagined where this beautiful game would have taken me.” She called soccer “the greatest thing that I have ever done.”
After 17 years on the national team and nearly as many years speaking out to support various issues including L.G.B.T.Q. rights, equal pay, the Black Lives Matter movement and voter rights, Rapinoe will play in her fourth Women’s World Cup and her final season in the National Women’s Soccer League and will end her career at the top of her sport.
She is a three-time Olympian and won gold with her team at the 2012 London Games. She has played in 199 games for the national team and has scored 63 goals for the United States, oftentimes making huge plays as a creative and fierce forward, exactly when her team needed it the most.
Perhaps nothing exemplified her ability to perform under pressure more than when she scored twice in a quarterfinal against France at the 2019 World Cup. Her goals came just days after former President Donald J. Trump criticized her on Twitter for her stance that she wouldn’t go to the Trump White House if her team won the tournament.
Trump said: “Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job!”
Rapinoe, however, did not flinch. In the fifth minute of that match against France, she scored on a free kick and ran to the corner of the field, stretched her arms out wide and basked in the applause of the fans. She scored again in the second half to catapult the team into the semifinals, with a 2-1 victory. The Americans went on to win that world title, their second in a row.
Rapinoe was stunning on the field in 2019. She won the Ballon d’Or as the FIFA women’s player of the year. Her six goals at that World Cup helped her earn the Golden Boot as the top scorer and the Golden Ball as the top player.
“She’s just a great player that’s done so much for this program, so much for soccer in general,” said Alex Morgan, Rapinoe’s longtime teammate. “I’m just really happy for her that she’s going to go out with a bang, hopefully.”
Rapinoe, who has had numerous injuries throughout her career, has been dealing with an ankle injury land missed two national team friendlies against Ireland in April with a calf injury. But even at less than 100 percent, her leadership will be key for the U.S. team, of which 14 players are World Cup rookies.
“This is all for her,” defender Crystal Dunn said, adding that Rapinoe has been an inspiration to her throughout her career.
“I think she’s somebody that you always want in your corner,” she said.
Now the team knows Rapinoe will be there for one final tournament, and the players all want to make it count.
“Well,” Morgan said, “now we have to go win the whole damn thing.”
Claire Fahy reported from San Jose, Calif.