This shouldn’t have been how it all ended. Two veterans of the game, two stars for both club and country were meant to duke it out one last time to leave their careers on a high. The fans at the stadium, and those at home, wanted to see Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger flex their stuff one lfinal time on the biggest stage the NWSL had to offer and were primed for it.
The football gods had other plans.
Roughly a minute and 20 seconds into the match, a non-contact injury sent Megan Rapinoe to the ground and the expression on her face, and those who gathered around her, showed that her game was over. Her career would end after just a few touches on the ball in the NWSL Championship, her third attempt at winning one with OL Reign.
Speaking to Lianne Sanderson of CBS Sports after the final whistle, Rapinoe was full of emotion.
“It’s a tough one. Definitely not how I envisioned this last one going. Pretty sure I tore my achilles,” she stated with a smile while her eyes seemed to be brimming with tears. “Thank you to everyone who’s been on the journey for all this time. It’s been amazing. Maybe besides this, I couldn’t have written it any different. Just super proud of my whole career and really thankful for all that [it’s] given me and for how long I’ve been able to play. So, even though it was a tough night, it was still amazing and [I’m] so thankful to be here.”
One paragraph doesn’t do justice to the events that transpired on Saturday night when OL Reign and NJ/NY Gotham FC faced off to become the latest winner of the NWSL Championship. Or how her final year in her career has gone for Megan Rapinoe.
Despite recovering from two separate ACL injuries before in her career, Rapinoe has been at the forefront of many USWNT’s triumphs. As she looked to win a third World Cup and pass off the reigns to the newcomers in the national team, her national team journey ended on a bitter note. Rapinoe missed a penalty during the USWNT’s Round of 16 against Sweden, something you wouldn’t have bet against her doing and then fast forward to Saturday night, she couldn’t help her team win the championship.
One wrong placement of her foot led to her not being able to do everything she can to help a team she’s been with for over 10 years, a team she had been with for two previous attempts at winning the championship, finally break that duck.
As she watched on from the sidelines, Midge Purce helped Gotham score two goals and while Rose Lavelle took on the mantle that Rapinoe would’ve had she not come off, scoring an equalizer earlier on in the game; it was Gotham and Purce who lasted the course and won the NWSL Championship. It was Ali Krieger who got to sign off her career on a high, while Rapinoe could only mourn in the moment, a missed opportunity for her.
After the game, Megan Rapinoe did what she does best, deal with negativity using humour and grace.
“I mean I don’t deserve this,” she stated in the post-game press conference with a smile. “I’m a better person than this. This one feels different than missing [a penalty] in New Zealand. I mean, again, it’s like that’s life. It’s part of the game.”
Lavelle, who was seated right next to her, laughed along with her during the commentary. It showed just how much Rapinoe’s outlook on her life and this sport has transferred to those who have played with for both club and country. That despite how much you give to the game of football, it can be a cruel mistress and how you deal with that is how much you’ll be able to take from it when all is said and done.
“I guess I just rode it until the wheels came right off,” Rapinoe inferred. “You don’t always get perfect endings, but I’ve also had so many perfect endings.”
Right now, Megan Rapinoe may not want to remember what happened on Saturday night, and maybe she will never circle back to that game again. However, her career overall is something she can look back on with pride, with reverence and with appreciation for all it has done for her.
As she was preparing to end leave the post-game conference, Rapinoe was asked about the state of the game she was now leaving. This was Rapinoe’s final quote as a professional soccer player.
“This is what we have built, the players who played in my generation, this is part of our legacy and what we’ve left behind.” she stated simply. “What is now here for the kids to take and to do with what they want. But I feel like we’ve left a pretty solid blueprint for them to continue to not only grow the game, and make it the premier league in the world, but also affect change off the field and continue to couple that with what they’re doing on the field.”
“I’m a proud, gay aunt, looking down on the league like, ‘Damn, we did good,’” she continued. “But they’re going to be able to take it so much further.”
With that, we bid goodbye to a player who’s given so much to this sport, both on and off the field. Her legacy with the USWNT will forever be etched in our concsiouness and for those who got to watch her in the NWSL, they will remember a player that was never afraid to show up for her team in Seattle. Her advocacy outside of the game could be seen as a by-product of all she accomplished on the field but it should be noted that even when many were against her; Megan Rapinoe never faltered, she never wilted and she always stood her ground.