By now, Megan Rapinoe is a well-known name in football and beyond for her exploits in 2019, which included the Fifa Women’s World Cup, Golden Boot, Golden Ball, Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or as well as a striking statement by refusing to visit the White House in protest and open activism.
Her now-iconic ‘pose’ celebration and the rousing speech on equality at the winner’s parade in America, as much as the pink hair, have made her stand out for a lot more than football.
But in a way, this activism has overshadowed the stunning footballer she is with her crafty play and creative style. The team’s official site describes her as “playful, inventive and out-of-the-box, she injects the USWNT with the creativity and hunger she’s had since she grew up roaming the fields in Redding.”
The US Women’s National Team is not without superstars from Mia Hamm to Carli Lloyd, but Rapinoe’s reputation grew so strong in 2019 that she became known as this generation’s Muhammad Ali.
The 34-year-old American was the star of last year’s Women’s World Cup, scoring six goals as the United States successfully defended their title. This was the midfielder’s second world title with the US after the Olympics gold in 2012. She was also the co-captain of the star-studded team.
With the platform she now commands, her words are heard and she is not afraid to use them, even slamming Fifa for not respecting women’s football and International Olympic Committee’s decision banning political protests.
But as impactful her voice is off-pitch, her presence on it has been just as crucial and game-changing for the USA. Long before the 2019 World Cup heroics, Rapinoe rose to stardom as the “Supersub” star with her memorable performances at the 2011 World Cup – her first.
She came into the team on the back of two knee injuries that threatened her career and was confined to the bench for the most part. But when she got a chance, she scored against Colombia in the group phase and true to form, grabbed a sideline microphone and sang “Born in the USA” to the crowd.
But the breakthrough moment in her career was the historic left-footed cross to Abby Wambach in the quarter-final against Brazil assisting what Sports Illustrated has termed as the goal that “helped relaunch women’s soccer in the US.” Her assist helped level in the last seconds of extra time and US won the penalty shoot-out.
Picture the game: It’s the quarter-final against Brazil, the team that had dumped them out in the semis at the last edition and gloated in the team hotel. The US was down 2-1 and down to 10 players after letting in a 92nd-minute goal and they were staring at the earliest World Cup exit in the history of the women’s team. According to SI, this was at a time when women’s football in the States was suffering financially and barely had an audience.
But the miraculous quarter-final win changed that and in the middle of that was Rapinoe.
In the 122nd minute, Carli Lloyd decided to pass the ball to Rapinoe on the left flank and not at the strikers closer to goal. Rapinoe, a right-footed player, was forced to take crosses with her left but came up with a sensational 45-yard cross that deceived the Brazil defense and met Abby Wambach’s head perfectly. The celebration was insane.
The US did not end up winning the 2011 Women’s World Cup, but that goal started a process that saw them win the next two.
In 2012, Rapinoe was once again making impossible plays as she scored the first-ever ‘Olimpico’ goal at Olympics – a goal directly off a corner kick without contact by another player.
It was another crucial match, the Olympic semi-final against Canada who has surprised everyone by taking the lead. The US had reached all Olympic finals so far and needed something to breakthrough, which was happily provided by the midfielder.
In the 54th minute, Rapinoe curled her corner kick just around the post and in a strange, dynamic way managed to get in a mind-boggling goal straight off the kick. The US went on to win the gold.
At the 2015 World Cup, she played her role as the US won the title but a year later, there were calls for her to be kicked off the team because she knelt during National Anthem in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick – the first non-Black athlete to do so. There were many games she didn’t play and it took a while before she made it to the team.
By 2019, she was too important to be kept out of the team but she didn’t stop fighting for social justice through the platform her position gave her. Long before the World Cup win she made it clear that she won’t visit the White House if they won. To which Trump responded saying she needs to win first. They did and didn’t bother with Washington.
The fight against that brand of discrimination is still on, even after the latest setback as they lost the case for equal pay in a US Court. Rapinoe has vowed she wont give up fighting for equality.
In her own words in the viral video at the winner’s parade last year: “There is nothing that can faze this group. We’re chilling. We’ve got tea-sipping. We’ve got celebrations. We’ve got pink hair and purple hair. We’ve got tattoos and dreadlocks. We’ve got white girls and black girls and everything in between. Straight girls and gay girls.
“I couldn’t be more proud to be a co-captain with Carli and Alex on this team. It’s my absolute honor to lead this team out on the field. There’s no place I’d rather be, even in the presidential race. I’m busy, I’m sorry.”