Sunday’s farewell came on a gorgeous fall afternoon at Soldier Field with family, friends and fiancée Sue Bird celebrating a 2-0 victory over South Africa.
“It was really special to experience that night and actually feel it and see it from my teammates, our staff and most importantly the fans,” Rapinoe said.
Fans wore Rapinoe jerseys in various designs and color schemes – time capsules of a career that began against Ireland in July 2006, three weeks after her 21st birthday. There were T-shirts featuring Rapinoe’s silhouette pose from the 2019 World Cup, where she won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s MVP – arms outstretched, one higher than the other, chin proudly pointed skyward.
A song about her blared from the speakers and chants of “Ohhhh, Megan Ra-pi-noe!” picked up steam.
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The 38-year-old winger played 54 minutes. A goal or an assist would have been a worthy conclusion. She came close to both.
An offside violation canceled out a first-half cross that Alex Morgan pumped into the net. Four minutes into the second half, Rapinoe’s corner kick was punched out by the goalkeeper and headed into the goal by Emily Sonnett. Rapinoe set up the goal, but because the ball took a deflection, she was not awarded an assist.
Sonnett jumped into Rapinoe’s arms. The U.S. players then backed away to give Rapinoe the chance to take her famous stance one last time.
“Pinoe’s message before the game was ‘feed the beast’ – she is the beast,” Sonnett said. “It wasn’t possible for her to score, but it was a celebration she might have made. I think she loved it. We had to do it, right?”
A few moments later, in their final act, Rapinoe’s 25-yard free kick almost sneaked under the crossbar. Unfortunately, it shot up and created ripples at the top of the net.
“I almost got one,” Rapinoe said. “So close. Damn.”
That was it. As Margaret Purce waited to replace her, Rapinoe hugged her teammates and presented Lindsey Horan with the captain’s armband. South African players applauded. Rapinoe blew kisses to the crowd and bowed.
“Pinoe is a special person not only to me and this team, but honestly to the entire world,” Purce said. “She is just something very special and radiates acceptance and love. And losing someone like that in the locker room hurts, but it’s just a beautiful moment and I’m so happy that she was able to leave with that kind of peace and awe that she deserved.”
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Following the game, she was honored with a video montage on the field.
“I felt like I could grow up before your eyes,” she said during a tearful speech to the crowd. “It was a great honor to wear this shirt and make my childhood dream come true.”
The farewell lasted almost three months. Before the U.S. team left for the World Cup in July, Rapinoe announced her intention to retire in the fall. However, her playing days aren’t quite over yet: she will continue to compete with Seattle’s OL Reign until the end of the NWSL season.
As great as the U.S. team’s on-field accomplishments were, Rapinoe said at a news conference Saturday that she was more proud of what she and her teammates accomplished off the field.
“By a mile,” she said, smiling.
She pointed to successful efforts to get the U.S. Soccer Federation to support the men’s and women’s programs equally, a campaign that has inspired other women’s teams around the world. She also proudly spoke about using her platform to advocate for non-sporting causes.
“We put a lot of pressure on [and] When we talk about whether it’s gay rights, racial justice or transgender rights, we come into greater focus in any conversation around sports, especially women’s sports,” Rapinoe said. “We have been a big driver of this and made it just as important as what we do on the field.”
Reflecting on how the team has found its voice, she added: “We’re a really special generation of players, but it says a lot about us that everything on the field compared to what we do off the field have achieved, faded We have chosen to use our full weight in the way we have used our greatest gift – our whole [athletic] Talent – trying to make the world a better place and leaving the game a much better place than we found it.”
Rapinoe’s farewell comes as the women’s team begins a new chapter. On Thursday, retiring defender Julie Ertz was honored during a friendly in Cincinnati. Others are likely to put an end to this next year.
Matt Crocker, USSF’s new athletic director, is looking for a coach following the departure of Vlatko Andonovski after the World Cup. With their elimination in the round of 16, the Americans experienced their first major tournament exit in their history. Rapinoe did not have a good tournament, a clear sign that her time was over.
Interim coach Twila Kilgore will also lead the team in next month’s friendlies against Colombia before handing over to a new leader for two friendlies at the end of the year.
“We are confident in our ability to have the head coach in place and ready to support the team starting this camp in early December,” Crocker said.
A new coach, he added, will need to emphasize attacking through sustained possession, a facet that has been missing from the U.S. program for years while others have become more technical and demanding.
Solutions will partly come from a younger generation. 21-year-old Trinity Rodman scored the first goal on Sunday with a powerful volley. Mia Fishel, 22, made her U.S. debut in the second half. Alyssa Thompson, 18, was in reserve.
“I am convinced that we have prepared them well for the future,” said Rapinoe. “We will always be there for them in any way we can, but now it’s their team.”
https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2023/09/24/megan-rapinoe-retires-last-uswnt-game/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_homepage Megan Rapinoe leaves USWNT with one last memorable win