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Megan Rapinoe, USNWT star, retires after NWSL season

Megan Rapinoe, USNWT star, retires after NWSL season

The day before the US women’s national team flies to New Zealand to begin defending their World Cup title, soccer legend Megan Rapinoe, one of the most beloved figures in all of sport, had news: this season will be her last.

Rapinoe, who won both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball at the 2019 World Championships, told reporters Saturday morning that this will be her last World Cup and NWSL season, admitting that she has “probably known for a year” that she is ready for retirement. She said when she made that decision, she felt a “deep sense of peace, gratitude and excitement.”

“I never could have imagined where this beautiful game would take me,” she said tearfully. “It is a great honor for me to have represented this country and this association for so many years. It really was the greatest thing I’ve ever done and I’m so grateful for that.”

Over his 17-year career with USWNT, Rapinoe has recorded 63 goals and 73 assists. She hopes, however, that her legacy goes well beyond statistics: An openly gay and outspoken advocate for numerous marginalized groups, Rapinoe — affectionately known as “Pinoe” — has been a long-time campaigner for equality, social justice and inclusion. Perhaps more than anyone else, she’s been the face of USWNT for the past four years, a role she’s embraced.

“We have shown that we have the power to change the world,” she said. “The more we use our voice and make space for ourselves, the more we make space for other people. Our mission is to develop and advance, to move down the career ladder and take as many people with us as possible… I think that’s our ultimate goal: to use (sport) to make the world a better place .”

Last summer, President Joe Biden honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Biden said at the time, “Megan is a champion of the essential American truth that everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Rapinoe’s retirement comes a year after the retirement of her fiancé, basketball legend Sue Bird, a five-time Olympic gold medalist and 13-time WNBA All-Star who retired with the Seattle Storm last summer. Rapinoe joked that Bird makes retirement look good, saying on Saturday, “As I watched Sue go through her senior year, I wanted to say it out loud (like she did). It’s weird knowing that and agreeing not to say it. I wanted to share it with my teammates and the rest of the world.”

She admitted that the question of when to hang up her boots was something “I’ve been thinking about for a long time, I think probably since the final whistle in Lyon (at the 2019 World Cup). It’s a question I’ve grappled with and struggled with a lot.”

However, she has no qualms about not being able to focus on the task at hand.

“I’m just as excited to play the rest of my career as I am to retiring and retiring,” she said, adding that she’s looking forward to “soaking up every moment” of this World Cup journey. “In a way, it’s a bit of borrowed time, but there aren’t any distractions…the best I can do is win.”

She also knows that it’s rare for a world-class athlete to compete on his own terms, so she’s “very grateful to be here and have the trust of this team and that my body has held out long enough.”

Four years after her World Cup dominance, Rapinoe is walking into the 2023 tournament in a different role. She’s now the group’s Elder Stateswoman, a veteran who will come off the bench – Alex Morgan joked that the age range in this summer’s roster is from “18 to Pinoe” is enough.

Rapinoe, who turned 38 last week, will play her 200th game for the USWNT in the Americans’ farewell game against Wales on Sunday. The game will be played in San Jose, about four hours south of Rapinoe’s hometown of Redding, California. She said about 40 family members would come to the game.

“The Bay feels like a home away from home, I grew up and played here,” she said. “It’s never gotten any closer to the game in Redding, so it feels special and kind of perfect. It feels right to end it here.”

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