One U-19 World Cup, a protracted battle with anemia, and three ACL knee injuries later, Megan and Rachael Rapinoe will finally get a chance to do what took them to the University of Portland in the first place - play soccer together.
The twins entered the University of Portland in the fall of 2004 anticipating an enjoyable four-year stint at one of the country's best soccer programs. But Garrett Smith, in his sixth year as head coach since taking over for the late Clive Charles, says things didn't go exactly to plan.
"You think that you're going to put two sisters out there and they're going to mesh in and enjoy their four years," he explains. "But lo and behold, we're here five years later and they've played in maybe 10 games together."
The Rapinoe sisters grew up in Redding, Calif., but played their club soccer for Elk Grove United in Sacramento, which meant practices were a five-hour round trip away. Once the recruiting process began, the pair let suitors know that they came as a two-for-one deal, which cooled some coaches' interest. But Smith saw promise in both players. "Megan's got that little bit of free-spirit creativity," he says. "She'll create a shot or take a shot somebody else won't see. Rachael is a little bit more technical. A back to goal, play off of type forward. She is a clinical finisher. When you have to score a goal, she'll find a way to get it."
Smith also noticed early on that their styles on the field matched who they were off of it.
"Megan's more apt to pick up a guitar in front of the group," he observes, "While Rachael will pull off someone to the side and talk with them a little more without the fanfare."
From the beginning, the sisters' plans to play together were put on hold.
The 5-foot-7 Megan redshirted her freshman season, so she could play in the U-19 Women's World Cup in Thailand, where she scored three goals and helped the United States to a third place finish.
Rachael, meanwhile, struggled through her freshman season at Portland. The 5-foot- 4 forward, who is 11 minutes older than her sister, saw playing time in only six games - as an outside back. Unbeknownst to her at the time, she was suffering from anemia, a disorder that would go undiagnosed for another year. That meant the constant fatigue that was affecting her game continued into the 2005 season, when she played in only nine games.
That was a banner year, though, for Megan and the rest of the women's team. Portland romped through the NCAA tournament, beating UCLA 4-0 in the final to complete an undefeated season and win the program's second national championship. There were a number of great players in that team, chief among them Megan, who scored 15 goals and had 13 assists.
Rachael remembers feeling mixed emotions after the victory. First and foremost, happiness that she and her teammates had become national champions in such spectacular fashion, but disappointment she couldn't have done more to contribute.
"It was hard winning a national championship not being out on the field with Megan, sharing that unique experience with her," she says. "But I was going through a lot of health issues. So a lot of my focus was getting healthy."
With a diagnosis under her belt and a new training and dietary regime to follow, Rachael turned heads during the Pilots' 2006 spring season. Smith recalls her improvement.
"After Rachael got healthy in her sophomore year, we threw her up front in one of her first games back in the spring, and she wound up scoring two goals," he says. "We immediately knew that there was something special about her and that she belonged up top." But it would take an injury to her sister Megan before she would get the chance.
DELAYED REUNION. The 2006 season started the same as 2005 had for the twins. Megan was directing the strings in the middle of the field, scoring 10 goals in the first 11 games of the season, while Rachael was challenging for a starting place in Portland's back four.
All that changed when Megan tore her left ACL in a match against Washington State. In the games that followed, Rachael stepped into her sister's attacking role and scored nine goals, five of which came in the Pilots' run to the NCAA quarterfinals.
It was a bittersweet moment for both sisters. But ultimately, Megan says, "I could not have been happier for Rachael. She'd gone though so much physically and emotionally. To see the player I always knew she could be, I was thrilled. She's an amazing player, an amazing person. I would have loved to have been out there with her."
When the 2007 season arrived, so, too, did hopes for the long-awaited reunion of the "Rapinoe attack," as the pair playfully calls it. But once again, things did not go to plan.
This time, Rachael started the season the same way she ended her last one - in clinical form. She scored four goals in Portland's first four games. Unfortunately, the streak came to an end when she, too, tore her left ACL. Megan did not fare much better, managing only two substitute's appearance before she tore her left ACL for the second time.
But where some might have thrown up their hands in defeat, the Rapinoes rebounded with determination, putting in lengthy hours at a number of physical therapy offices. Now, having spent the better part of a year rehabilitating their knees together, the Rapinoes are once again slated to play alongside one another in the Portland attack, and both are confident that their ACL's will not pose any problems.
"My knee is doing fantastic. It feels really good," Megan says. "The more I play, the more I'm comfortable with my movements. I'm different than before, but I can come back and be just as strong and dynamic of a soccer player as I was before."
She credits a different approach to her second recovery.
"Physically, it's the same kind of thing," she explains. "But mentally, it's been a lot different. Last time, I took it very quickly - got back playing as soon as possible. This time, I had a lot of time. I didn't have any expectations for myself. This leg is going to be with me for the rest of my life. It's important that I treat it right and that I give myself the time to recover physically and emotionally from the injury."
Rachael is operating with the same sanguine mentality.
"It's doing wonderful. I'm arguably the fittest I have ever been, and I definitely think I can get my form back," she enthuses. "Playing with my team in this last month or so, I'm very confident in my abilities. It might take me a little while to get my rhythm back, but I'm confident with what I can do and what I bring to my team."
The sisters, who have lived together for the past two years and will graduate this year, are giddy at the prospect of their reunion on the field.
"Words can't even describe it. We are so, so excited," Megan gushes. "The chain of events that happened all throughout our careers, the way it's all come together...something in there was meant to happen."
Smith is equally enthusiastic about the upcoming season.
"I'm just excited to see them both as offensive-minded players playing together," he says. "When you have two forwards that have a connection already, it's that much more dynamic."
SAME GOALS. For now, though, the 23-year-old Rapinoes share the same personal goal - stay healthy. Once they've found their footing, Megan and Rachael can look ahead to the bigger picture, which they say without hesitation is a national championship.
"Part of our tradition is winning," Megan explains. "It's great to get win the conference championship and get into the playoffs. It's great to get to the final four. But we're not satisfied unless we're the only team that ends on a good note. We definitely have other goals, taking it one by one. But we want to win, and anything less will be a disappointment."
Rachael sums it up nicely, "Champions or bust."
When time does finally run out on their college careers, Megan and Rachael have different plans. Megan, a sociology major, hopes to continue her run with the women's national team. In 2006, she scored two goals in four appearances for the senior side. Although her time representing the USA has been disrupted by her two ACL injuries, she is confident she can win back a place on the team.
"I think I have the potential to hopefully be on that team, and I hope that the coaching staff on that team feels the same way but that's out of my control," she says. "Right now, I'm just concentrated on my time here at Portland."
Rachael, a life science major, was invited to the U-23 team after her 2006 season. But she sees a different path for herself.
"It's an honor playing for your country, but I don't know if it's for me," she says. "I have a lot of other passions that I'm looking forward to. This is my last season at UP, and this is my focus - I want to give it everything."
For now, the Rapinoe twins are happy to keep things simple. But above all, they are thankful they will finally be able to fulfill their dream of playing college soccer beside one other.
"Fate has a funny way - life has a funny way - of working out," Megan says before Rachael finishes the thought, "And we're just looking forward to getting back that Rapinoe attack."
(This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue ofSoccer Americamagazine.)