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Megan Rapinoe: 'There has never been one like her'

Kalika Mehta in Auckland
July 18, 2023

Megan Rapinoe's teammates are paying tribute to the United States winger ahead of her final World Cup tournament. The US women's team begin their hunt for a third consecutive title against Vietnam in Auckland.

Megan Rapinoe looks at the ball
Megan Rapinoe is about to embark on her fourth and final World CupImage: Alan Lee/Action Plus/IMAGO

Megan Rapinoe has yet to step on the pitch in her final World Cup, but emotions are already running high.

While the enigmatic United States winger told DW it was important to announce her retirement from football ahead of the tournament to put an end to constant questions on the topic, the news has hit her teammates hard.

Rapinoe, playing in her fourth World Cup, has been a vocal leader on and off the field for the USWNT.

Defender Kelley O'Hara, who has shared the pitch with the OL Reign player during the previous tournaments in Germany, Canada and France, struggled to hold back tears as she spoke of the impact of her teammate on the four-time World Cup champions.

"There's never been a player like her and there's probably never going to be one close to her," a choked-up O'Hara said.

"It's hard to put into words, honestly. I know that the world sees the Megan Rapinoe that the world sees, but we get to see her up close and personal." 

"That person the world sees is an incredible person and human. And that is her also up close and personal. She brings a sense of humor and lightness, but intensity and empathy at the same time," she added. "She's done such incredible things for this team and for the world, so to be able to see the up close and personal, has been really special."

A vocal advocate for all

Aside from her honors on the field, which include two World Cup titles and an Olympic Gold medal, Rapinoe is often held up as a figurehead for the team on social issues.

The 38-year-old has never shied away from being vocal about LGBTQ rights and was at the forefront of team's fight for equality with their male counterparts.

Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher admitted that Rapinoe accepted taking on the burden of being the constant voice piece to protect many others in the team from having to be distracted from their focus on the field.

Megan Rapinoe looks at the ball as she aims to strike it as her teammates look at her
The United States are aiming for their third World Cup title in a rowImage: Alan Lee/Action Plus/IMAGO

"Her impact is felt far deeper than just on this team," Naeher explained. "The thing that's special about her is she takes on such a role."

"Because she is such a big presence, she's willing to do a lot of the extra. She'll take on the hard questions, the difficult things that then allows other people not have to have that be a factor for them," she added. "She has attacked everything unapologetically herself and allows others to do the same and to be who they are as well."

Newer players strive for more time with Rapinoe

The United States' first match of the tournament is still a number of days away and much of the focus for the team is centered around being ready to defend their title and push for a third consecutive trophy.

But for both the teammates who have shared years on the pitch with Rapinoe and those who are playing in their first tournament with her, the presence and aura she brings to the pitch will be hard to replace.

Two of the 14 World Cup debutants in the US squad, Andi Sullivan and Kristie Mewis, admitted the difficulty in contemplating a team that doesn't include Rapinoe.

"I can't really think about the team without her," midfielder Sullivan said. "We're trying to just soak up as much with her as we can."

Megan Rapinoe poses for a picture with a tribal warrior
The USWNT were welcomed to New Zealand with a traditional performance from tribal warriorsImage: Oliver Moody/DW

"Megan brings all these things to the world," she added. "How she's still able to connect with individuals and bring so much like warmth and comfort, which is kind of crazy for someone who's such a big personality."

And, Mewis added: "I keep telling P (Rapinoe), go another cycle, come on, we need you another cycle."

"She just embodies the team and you feel weird when she's not around. She just has that presence that you crave, that you want on the field, and that you want off the field," she said. "It's really sad that this will be her last, but her legacy will live on for a long time."

Edited by: Chuck Penfold