Megan Rapinoe celebrates her first goal for the USA, during a 10-0 victory over Chinese Taipei in which she scored twice, in Carson, California on Oct. 1, 2006.
Megan Rapinoe is hanging up her cleats. But she’s not gone for good. Not quite yet.
The USA legend’s international retirement comes after a 17-year career with the U.S. women’s national team, where she finished with 203 international caps, 63 goals, 73 assists, two World Cups, an Olympic gold and bronze medal.
The 2019 Ballon D’Or winner is set to retire from all soccer when the OL Reign’s NWSL season comes to end this fall.
But even when she’s done on the field, will ‘Pinoe stop being ‘Pinoe? Probably not.
“I’m not gonna, like, go away forever, don’t worry. I’m one of you guys now, [I’m gonna] be the biggest fan of the team,” a teary but stoic Rapinoe on Sunday, after her final bow for her country in a 2-0 friendly win over South Africa at Soldier Field in Chicago. “I’ll be around a lot more now, I swear to god, Mom, I’ll come home twice a year”
Between her last-ever words in a USA jersey, Rapinoe made sure to rag on a teammate. Mid-speech she told a visibly mushy Lindsey Horan to “pull it together.” This was right after she had publicly teased the representatives of U.S. Soccer that they would “regret” handing her the microphone after the whistle.
“We’re just a little snapshot of all of you. I think this team has taken a lot of pride in that. It has been such an honor to be able to wear this shirt and to play with all these amazing players, and live my childhood dream. Thank you, I love you,” Rapinoe said to the crowd.
It was vintage ‘Pinoe. Heartfelt, yet quippish. Emotional, yet composed. Important, yet understated. Entirely human and real. She is the court jester who is also the queen. Someone who knows how to touch every person in the kingdom of soccer, no matter their status.
Away from her touching pre-match and post-match serenades, the action encapsulated her legend too.
Across her 54 minutes, Rapinoe was bullish and speculative. She provided one last moment to epitomize her gifts as a player. A typically driven inswinging corner kick caused havoc in the South Africa box and was headed in by OL Reign teammate Emily Sonnett. A comical knees-up and silly celebration ensued.
“I think I was always kind of a joker and a ham and you know, I like to perform in a way and like to have fun and I love to make people laugh,” the two-time World Cup winner said on Saturday, in Chicago, during her final press conference with the USWNT.
The 38-year-old Rapinoe’s legacy is built on being outspoken off the field. She never backed down when it came to speaking up for equal pay, gay rights, trans rights or racial inequality or any other issue.
The USA legend relished working on her craft all the while knowing she had a responsibility to try and make life better for marginalized Americans and people around the world. And that meant being herself, and having fun while making noise.
“I think there can often be this narrative around sports that if you aren't like, you know, just 100% locked in all the time then you're not committed, which we all know is like not possible,” Rapinoe said on Saturday.
“For me, I simultaneously take this as seriously as I can, while not taking it that serious at all ... whether we were kneeling or talking about equal pay or you know, talking about trans rights, there's so much pressure ... we have the right to enjoy what we're doing as well. I think a lot of times my joy – or expressions of joy – were like, you know, absolutely an act of resistance or, you know, a big glaring sort of middle finger to everyone.”
What makes Rapinoe’s glittering individual career so special is her ability to not only be the hero but to also be the villain. She was an entertainer, a heel when she needed to be. That dichotomy couldn’t be more symbolic of her time playing soccer in Portland.
The city gave Rapinoe her first taste of elite collegiate soccer. A national standout for the University of Portland between 2005-2008, she scored 30 goals and provided 28 assists, while also winning the 2005 NCAA College Cup alongside future Portland Thorn Christine Sinclair.
Ten days ago she played in her final NWSL Cascadia Rivalry match against Seattle’s old enemy, the Portland Thorns. A club she scored nine times against, the second-most of any player vs. the Thorns all time.
A crowd of 25,218 packed out Providence Park to see Rapinoe’s final outing in Portland. It was the first sold-out NWSL match for the Thorns since 2019.
Portland cruised to a 2-0 win, Rapinoe played 84 minutes and was given a standing ovation as left the field. A strange-yet-fitting end to a player who only two seasons ago gave two middle fingers to the angry home fans after scoring a late equalizer from the penalty spot.
Moved to tears when speaking to the media afterward, Rapinoe reflected on what the Rose City meant to her after that match.
“I've been trying to impress people in Portland since I was 18,” she said as her voice cracked a little. “These are always the very best games. So, even when you're on the losing end, like tonight, this really sucks, but it's always really special playing here.
“You know, a packed crowd, I don't think it was like all for me, but I mean, probably, basically, mostly, you know, it must have it be. And, you know, just such an important soccer city for our sport as well. You know, I, I have so much love and respect for, you know, the fans here and how they show up for their team.”
Megan Rapinoe (vs. Saint Louis Athletica's Tina Elerson) began her pro career with the Chicago Red Stars in 2009.
The long goodbye continues. Rapinoe still has (at least) three more games of her career remaining.
The NWSL understands the gravity of the moment, and has moved her final ever home match in Seattle, on Oct. 6 against the Washington Spirit, to a primetime 8 p.m. ET slot on CBS. The two clubs sit fifth and sixth in the NWSL standings, and unlike Sunday’s international goodbye there will be a huge amount on the line.
Should the Reign miss out on the playoffs, then, just like it did with the USWNT, the eventual end would come in the Windy City on Oct. 15. In a final poignant moment of symmetry, Rapinoe and the Reign will take on the Chicago Red Stars, with whom the forward started her professional career back in 2009.
Some will laugh, some will cry. Feel what you need to feel. As the tributes roll in for one of American soccer’s greatest icons, there is no one correct way to say goodbye but just make sure that you say goodbye.Photos: ISI Photos (top, USWNT), Bill Barrett ISI Photos (bottom/Chicago Stars).