Rapinoe anxious to express bigger role at the World Cup

By Ridge Mahoney

Megan Rapinoe loves coffee. And her girlfriend’s music. And speaking her mind. And swearing occasionally. And taking on a crucial role for a U.S. team that hasn’t won a Women’s World Cup since the giddy days of the 1999 World Cup, when she was a teenage tomboy growing up in northern California about a two-hours’ drive south of the Oregon border.

“It’s evolved in many ways and I think I’ve become much more consistent and I’ve been much more productive,” says Rapinoe, who debuted for the USA in 2006 while at the University of Portland and needed a few years to recover from ACL injuries she suffered in back-to-back seasons.

“I’m not going to run a million miles, I’m not the biggest or the strongest or the fastest. I have some physical qualities, it’s not like I’m a dud, but I know when I can find the spaces or play more of a cat-and-mouse game and get people involved with my passing and my vision, that’s when the team is most productive. That’s when I can really put a bigger impact on the game.”

She earned her 100th cap earlier this year and since playing in her first World Cup four years ago has grown into a player who strives to be as reliable as she is inventive. No longer does she drift in and out of games as her free spirit moves. She’s learned that not every moment is right for the unexpected shot or the perfectly arrowed pass.

“There’s no excuse for me losing the ball lower than our attacking third and that’s part of my role in the team, to help in the buildup and be involved in that,” says Rapinoe, whose twin sister Rachael played with her at the University of Portland (and also lost dozens of games to knee surgeries). “But I also realize that sometimes I’m going to try something that doesn’t come off and that’s okay, I have the freedom to do that, knowing that some of the time it’s definitely going to come off and something special’s going to happen.”

One of the most special moments in the U.S. team’s history unfolded when Abby Wambach’s shot crashed past Brazilian keeper Andreia in the 122nd minute of a majestic 2011 Women’s World Cup quarterfinal. In such moments, even as the game ebbed away, time seemed to elongate as midfielder Carli Lloyd pushed the ball upfield.

“It felt like it took forever,” laughs Rapinoe, who was motoring up the left flank utterly wide-open. “I think she only took two touches. I’m saying, ‘Goddamn it, I’m open over here!’

“It was more of a flash, a feeling I have to get this out of my feet and away from me and somewhere useful. I didn’t see Abby. I don’t even know if I looked up. I knew that if it was going in the box she sure as hell better be somewhere around there.

“I wish I could say that I pin-pointed her out, but I didn’t. It was a mix of skill and talent and hard work and a lot of luck and one of those special sports moments. And massive desperation, like “F---! This is gonna get blown, this is gonna end. Oh my God!”

Spinning off a few cuss words in as many paragraphs isn’t the norm for Rapinoe, but nor does she lack for passion and energy and bluntness. Assertiveness in her psyche is reflected more in her play than before. She bears the duties and burdens imposed upon veterans, especially those expected to break the game open.

“I am always looking for that pass or for that shot maybe no one’s expecting, but it has to come at the right time and right spot on the field,” she says. “A pass that maybe could have gotten through but didn’t is just a sh----y pass, no matter the idea or the difficulty of it. I think that I’ve learned that I have to keep the ball.

“I’ve taken on more in my role and knowing that I’m more of a veteran player now, even if it doesn’t totally feel right. For years, we’ve always had really big-name players and veterans and I’ve kind of had a free-spirited role and I still have that, but I also want to be a player that everybody can rely on.”

Her free spirit extends to outspokenness and activism regarding gay rights, and started before she publicly declared her sexual preference shortly before the 2012 Olympics. Perhaps the revelation inspired her; less than a month later, she scored a goal directly from a corner kick -- a feat that no player, male or female, had ever achieved in the Olympic Games. She admits to some surprise, and disappointment, that more gay athletes haven’t followed in the path of the Galaxy’s Robbie Rogers and pro player Michael Sam, others who have come out during their playing careers.

“Even before I came out, I wasn’t in the closet, really,” she says. “My family knew, all my friends new. In some ways, female athletes think, ‘Why do I need to come out and say it and make a big deal out of it?’ But I disagree with that argument. Even if it’s not necessary for you personally, in terms of the bigger picture -- I’m looking at it from a macro angle -- it is necessary.

“You may be inspiring young male athletes to have that courage to come out. We still need that because in our realm of sports it’s verbally accepted but there’s obviously something going on if people don’t feel comfortable coming out.”

If she’s to be comfortable in her own skin and her role on the national team, all the travel and commitments require certain supplies. “You’ve got to get it in, you’ve got to get ready for the day,” she says of a most favored bean. “I’m buzzing on caffeine. I’m buzzing my head off. If I have to have coffee in the hotel, it’s usually three cups and that will do it. If I’m going out, I’ll do a quad.”

That would be a quad Americano, a simple yet potent blend of hot water and four healthy belts of espresso. At her home in Seattle, coffee capital of the universe, she relies on companion Sera Cahoone -- formerly a barista, now a musician -- to whip up something on an appliance borne of ulterior motive.

“I bought her an espresso machine for her birthday, which is really more of a gift for me,” admits Rapinoe. “She makes coffee every morning. She was thrilled with it, though, and I was like, ‘This is the best gift ever.’ I’m selfish that way. But she likes it. It’s good for both of us.”

Rapinoe likes the U.S. chances to end that World Cup drought though the field is generally regarded as the toughest to ever contest the title. The timing may be perfect; she turns 30 on July 5, when the final will be played in Vancouver. (The ’99 final was played the day before her 14th birthday.)

Wambach, Lloyd, Alex Morgan and Hope Solo are the brightest stars, yet for a grueling tournament, a team needs more than talent, luck and experience. It needs a certain kind of depth, one of quality as much as quantity. If Rapinoe is subbed off, said replacement will have abilities she lacks.

“I think there’s players on the bench who have skills players on the starting XI don’t have,” she says. “And that’s going to be huge because seven games on turf is going to be so hard I don’t know if anybody aside from Hope and the centerbacks are going to play 90 minutes for seven games on turf.

“The depth and the versatility that we have is going to be a strong suit of ours. Every single player on our bench could be a starter on most teams in the world. You’ve got to have those special qualities in a lot of different players and I think we have that.”

3 comments about "Rapinoe anxious to express bigger role at the World Cup".
  1. R2 Dad, June 8, 2015 at 11:38 a.m.

    My favorite WNT player, also an anomaly inasmuch that her qualities are her own and not developed by the youth soccer system in this country. We have a gazillion girls playing the sport, there should be a dozen similarly-skilled players like her but there aren't. Rapinoe is great because of her intelligence on the ball--I wish more coaches understood how to develop that aspect of our player's game.

  2. steve foster, June 9, 2015 at 12:59 a.m.

    Raping has a lot of good things to say. My question is , When will she sign for Man United? :). She is that good.

  3. steve foster, June 9, 2015 at 1:01 a.m.

    The phone changed Rapinoe's to another word in the post

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