The outcome of the match was not what Megan Rapinoe had envisioned.
Her disappointment led her to dub the experience as a “grim farce” and a “cruel prank”.
After dedicating 17 years to the Stars and Stripes, Rapinoe, a two-time Women’s World Cup champion, bid a tearful goodbye to the international arena for the last time.
During her 202nd game for the USA, the defending world champions shockingly lost 5-4 on penalties to Sweden following a goalless draw in Melbourne in the last-16.
Rapinoe, 38, one of the most triumphant players of her era, had previously announced that she would retire at the end of the season.
On a night filled with nail-biting suspense, the USA was leading 3-2 on penalties. However, substitute Rapinoe missed her penalty kick, which was subsequently followed by misses from Sophia Smith and Kelley O’Hara.
As Lina Hurtig sealed the deciding penalty, barely edging the four-time world champions out, Rapinoe was flooded with emotion.
The Olympic gold medallist tried to mask her tears by pulling up her shirt.
Television cameras caught a glimpse of Rapinoe, the 2019 Ballon d’Or winner, being comforted by her teammate Lynn Williams, ten minutes post-game as her dreams of concluding her USA career triumphantly were thwarted.
“Personally, this feels like a cruel prank to me,” Rapinoe lamented, “This is grim farce. I missed a penalty.”
Despite the outcome, Rapinoe exits as a true icon of American soccer.
Since her international debut in July 2006 in a friendly against the Republic of Ireland in San Diego, she has proven to be one of the most distinguished players in the history of the United States women’s national team.
Rapinoe, having competed in the 2011, 2015 and 2019 editions, was playing in her fourth World Cup. She was instrumental in cementing the USA’s dominance in women’s football, even scoring in the 2019 final as the Stars and Stripes clinched consecutive world titles.
That victorious night in Lyon four years ago felt like a distant memory as an emotional Rapinoe, who was named women’s player of the year at the 2019 Best Fifa Awards, waved a final goodbye to the USA fans before making her exit.
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Rapinoe will retire post the NWSL campaign of her club, OL Reign, which concludes in October, with the play-off final on 11 November.
‘I have always aimed to make the world a better place’
Rapinoe was a substitute for all games during this World Cup, featuring in three matches and logging a total of 77 minutes on the field.
The USA team is in a transitional phase with 14 of the 23 players in the manager Vlatko Andonovski’s squad featuring in their first World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Seasoned players like Rapinoe, forward Alex Morgan, 34, and defender O’Hara, 35, were included to add experience to the youthful squad. Rapinoe also played a role in mentoring the younger players off the field.
Rapinoe was one of the players presented for an interview almost daily during the tournament, and despite her limited time on the pitch, her turn came on 30 July.
Rapinoe spoke about her legacy in front of a packed audience in a renovated 1920s building near Auckland’s waterfront, “I’ve always tried to play the game in the right spirit and do things the right way,” she said.
“I’ve always tried to use whatever platform we have, and this platform was created long before I arrived, to develop the game, to make the world a better place, and to use our voices to call for more.”
Rapinoe’s accomplishments off the field are as noteworthy as those on the pitch – she is renowned for her work on social issues.
In 2012, she openly declared her sexuality and has been a vocal advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and gender equality. In the previous year, Rapinoe was the first footballer to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
She has used her position to voice her opinions on social justice issues, including those on which American public opinion is deeply split.
Rapinoe was one of the first prominent US athletes to kneel during the national anthem in protest against police brutality.
Rapinoe and her team were invited to the White House after winning the 2015 World Cup during Barack Obama’s presidency.
However, during the 2019 World Cup, a video of Rapinoe stating, “I’m not going to the [expletive] White House,” surfaced.
President Donald Trump was not pleased with her comments and tweeted that she should first win before making such statements.
Rapinoe, who was then the captain, went on to play a crucial role in the final as the United States beat the Netherlands to win back-to-back World Cups.
Regardless, some critics were not impressed.
Brad Polumbo, a journalist at the Washington Examiner, wrote, “Rapinoe has soccer skills for sure, but her entitled, flippant, and unpatriotic attitude is the epitome of first-world privilege.”
Even at this World Cup, where she spent more time on the bench than on the field, Rapinoe faced criticism.
The US team in Australia and New Zealand was largely silent during the national anthem, leading US media personality Megyn Kelly to say, “She’s [Rapinoe] poisoned the entire team against the country for which they play.”
Carli Lloyd, who played in the 2011, 2015, and 2019 World Cups, criticized Rapinoe and her teammates for dancing on the pitch after narrowly avoiding elimination by Portugal in their final group game.
Distinguished by her teammates
Despite receiving criticism, Rapinoe remains a beloved figure within the US team.
When asked about Rapinoe, defender Crystal Dunn could not help but express her emotions.
“‘P’ is an incredible person, human being, friend, teammate,” Dunn said, “We all love her so much.”
Midfielder Kristie Mewis believes that Rapinoe’s legacy will continue “for a long time.”
Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher added, “She’s unapologetically herself and allows others to be the same and be who they really are as well.”
Megan Rapinoe: Glad to have made retirement decision public
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Megan Rapinoe retirement
Why is Megan Rapinoe retiring from international football?
Megan Rapinoe had announced prior to the Women’s World Cup 2023 that she would be retiring at the end of the season. After a highly successful career spanning 17 years, including winning two World Cups and an Olympic gold medal, the 38-year-old athlete decided it was time to step away.
How did Megan Rapinoe’s final World Cup appearance end?
In her final World Cup appearance, the USA was eliminated after losing 5-4 on penalties to Sweden. Rapinoe, substituting for the night, missed her spot-kick in a tense shootout, which contributed to the team’s defeat.
What has been Megan Rapinoe’s contribution off the pitch?
Rapinoe has been known for her work on social issues. She publicly came out as gay in 2012 and has actively advocated for LGBTQ+ rights and gender equality. She became the first football player to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom and has consistently used her platform to speak out on social justice issues.
What were some of the criticisms directed at Megan Rapinoe?
Despite her accomplishments, Rapinoe has faced criticism for her outspoken views. Some critics labelled her as ‘unpatriotic’ for her protest against police brutality and refusal to visit the White House after the 2019 World Cup victory. At the 2023 World Cup, she was criticized for dancing and smiling after a narrow victory, and for her influence over the team’s stance during the national anthem.
What did Megan Rapinoe’s teammates say about her?
Despite some criticism, Rapinoe was revered by her teammates. Defender Crystal Dunn praised her as an incredible person and friend. Midfielder Kristie Mewis expressed her wish for Rapinoe to stay on the team, describing her as a presence that they needed. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher appreciated Rapinoe’s media engagement and her authentic personality.