Megan Rapinoe has been the USWNT player most synonymous with this team's era of dominance. Throughout her international career, she helped lead the USWNT to two World Cup championships, one World Cup runner-up finish, the 2012 Olympic gold, and the Olympic bronze in 2021. Off the field, along with her teammates, she has been a champion of civil rights, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter national anthem protests, and in fighting with her teammates to secure a historic deal with US Soccer that ensures the Men's and Women's national soccer teams are paid equally.
Rapinoe is set to play her final match as a member of the USWNT on Sunday, Sept. 24 at 5:30 p.m. ET in a friendly against South Africa at Soldier Field. She will finish with 203 international appearances and at least 63 goals in her illustrious career. With her final USWNT game upon us, here's a look back at US Soccer's most iconic player of the past decade and her best moments.
Over a decade before the USWNT would go out in the Round of 16, Brazil nearly knocked the United States out of the 2011 Women's World Cup Quarterfinals. The Americans trailed 2-1 in the dying moments of extra time. The US was down to 10 players, staring down their earliest World Cup exit. Then Megan Rapinoe hit the world's most beautiful cross to Abby Wambach, who tied the game and sent it into penalty kicks. There, they went five out of five on spot kicks and took the shootout, advancing to the semifinals. Oh, and don't forget Rapinoe buried the fourth US penalty kick of the shootout. Rapinoe to Wambach remains one of the all-time clutch moments in World Cup history. Soccer fans worldwide would give years off their lives to feel a fraction of what USWNT fans felt during that moment.
Olimpico at the Olympics
The following year, in 2012, the USWNT would not be denied. In 2011, they ultimately fell to Japan in the World Cup Final. They would make no such mistakes in 2012. Rapinoe was electric, with seven goal contributions across six games at the Olympics. In the semifinals against CONCACAF archrivals Canada, Rapinoe went toe-to-toe with all-time international goal scoring leader Christine Sinclair of Canada, with the club teammates each combining for five goals. Sinclair bagged the hat trick, but Rapinoe's brace included an “Olimpico” goal, scoring directly from a corner kick. And she got the last laugh as she helped the United States to a 4-3 extra-time win and then Olympic gold.
Pulling the strings in 2015
Four years after her stunning cross and clutch penalty helped power the United States through the 2011 World Cup knockout stages, Rapinoe stepped into a starring role with the USWNT on the biggest stage. Rapinoe was mainly a super sub in 2011. In 2015, she started every game she could play in (missed one due to yellow card accumulation). She was one of seven players in the tournament with multiple goals and assists. She was integral to a dominant USWNT midfield that overwhelmed teams with their technique and class.
There were no moments as astonishing or clutch as 2011, but that was because they were unnecessary. The USWNT gave up just three goals across the entire tournament. Two came in garbage time during a 5-2 win in the final over Japan. Rapinoe further cemented herself as one of the era's defining dominant forces. And she helped this generation of the USWNT win their first World Cup.
The repeat: a 2019 for the ages
In 2019, for both club and country, Rapinoe reached her on-field zenith. She won FIFA's Best Player Award and the Ballon d'Or Féminin for her work across the entire year. She was a singular force for the USWNT as they stomped to a second straight World Cup title. Rapinoe scored six times and assisted twice across just five games of action on her way to winning the tournament's Golden Ball and Golden Boot Awards. It was also in 2019 that Rapinoe cemented her status as an advocate for equity in the women's game and for the USWNT specifically. She silenced critics and haters of the team's dominance and the fun they were having with iconic celebration after iconic celebration.
She was the best player in the world and proved it a hundred times in that tournament. Five of her goals came in the knockout stages, including back-to-back two-goal performances over Spain and France in 2-1 games. She scored the winning goal in the 2-0 final victory and earned Player of the Match for the final. Rapinoe did it all.
Securing the future in 2022
Despite her list of on-field accomplishments too long to go into here, that is not what Rapinoe will be remembered for most. Instead, that will be the historic collective bargaining agreement she helped secure for the USWNT with US Soccer. In 2022, after a long and drawn-out process, Rapinoe and her teammates finally secured the equal pay they spent the better part of a decade fighting for. This agreement, which lasts through 2028, includes a shared revenue pool from prize money that both national teams win.
This helps cancel out the severe inequality present with the revenue being offered to the players in women's soccer. This also means that despite the team's disappointing 2023 World Cup finish, they earned much more than their counterparts. And in a sport that keeps reminding us how far it has to go, Rapinoe and the USWNT continue to blaze a trail of respect and progress amongst their peers worldwide.