Megan Rapinoe celebrates after scoring against Thailand in the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup on June 11, 2019 in Reims, France.
PARIS – Megan Rapinoe is in France this month competing in her third FIFA Women’s World Cup, and four years from now she hopes to be suiting up for a fourth one, even though she’d be 37 years old.
“It’s great. I want to be in like 10 World Cups if I can,” the U.S. forward, who turns 34 next month, said after Sunday’s group-stage match against Chile. “I love playing in the World Cup. This is the best and biggest stage that you can possibly play on. This is just an incredible moment for me.”
No stranger to international competition, Rapinoe has played more than 150 games with the national team, having helped the team to victory at the 2015 World Cup and the Olympic Games London 2012.
She’s also established herself as a creative force for the Americans, a technically skilled maestro they can count on to create dangerous scoring opportunities out of nothing.
That showed already this summer when she scored a goal in the Team USA’s record-setting 13-0 opening match against Thailand last week. And yet, in an acknowledgement to the incredible attacking depth on the U.S. team, coach Jill Ellis elected to replace her entire forward line against Chile, an approach that still led to a 3-0 win while allowing all 20 U.S. field players to see action already in France as the team heads into the more difficult portion of the tournament.
Rapinoe, one of the team’s three captains, bought into the concept.
“It’s a long tournament. We’ve been able to shrink some of that now for the starters,” said Rapinoe, who plays professionally for Reign FC, a Tacoma, Washington-based team in the NWSL. “The bench we have is ridiculous. It’s by far the deepest that we’ve ever had. So to get people in while going through the tournament, whether it’s (due to) suspensions or substitutions or injuries or whatever, we’re going to need a lot of different people.
“It’s really nice for everyone to have that moment for themselves.”
That kind of attitude and perspective helps show why Rapinoe, who is often called Pinoe by her teammates and friends, is revered in the U.S. locker room.
“Whether I’m asking her tactical questions or whether we’re just joking around, I think Pinoe is such an integral part of the team,” said U.S. midfielder Samantha Mewis. “I can’t imagine being here without her. She has welcomed us into the group and made us really feel a part of it and also just kind of led the way on so many things the team is trying to do. So we could keep talking about her forever because she is just so important to us.”
Rose Lavelle, who like Mewis is a midfielder making her World Cup debut this month, concurred.
“Pinoe is like a leader on and off the field,” Lavelle, 24, said. “And I always say that I just feel like I came at such a cool time when there was a new wave of younger people coming in and still older veterans too, and I feel so grateful because Pinoe’s game has always been something I looked up to and kind of tried to model myself after.
“And so now to be able to be on the same field as her and learning from her on and off the field has been so amazing and I feel so grateful to have her as a teammate.”
The U.S., which has already secured a spot in the second round of the World Cup, has outscored its opponents 16-0 in the first two matches with an upcoming game against Sweden on Thursday.
The team’s dominant start has led to the inevitable comparisons with the U.S. men’s team. During one of the World Cup matches in France, a reporter suggested that the U.S women’s team was so good it looked like the men’s team. Told of that comment, Rapinoe said she took it as a compliment.
“We’re playing fast and playing quickly,” she said. “I think we’re a very physical team. The style we want to play — we want to play quickly and get up and down the field, that sort of transition, counter-attack style. I don’t think all women’s teams are playing like that, and I think that we’re one of the few that are.”
Rapinoe said competing hard is part of the U.S. team’s culture.
“We compete and fight against each other like that,” she said. “The scrimmages we play against each other are hard fought just like these games are. It’s probably just a little bit of insanity as well. If there is a second left, you have to go for it. …"
“I think over time, we’ve built this confidence because we’ve scored so many late goals. You just think about all these moments we’ve had, that we’ve scored late. I just feel like for us it’s ingrained in us.”
Despite several ACL tears to her knee during her career, Rapinoe is still a key player for the U.S. at 33 — teammate Carli Lloyd says she has elevated her game the past couple years — so maybe she will play in more World Cups even as she gets older. And perhaps the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024 Games. After all, soccer remains her passion.
“It’s been such an incredible ride to have been able to play and make this my job that I love so much,” Rapinoe told me a while back. “I’m so passionate about it. And to do it at the highest level, to prove yourself at that level, to compete at that level. To be able to travel the world and have the experiences, it’s everything wrapped in one.”
Jim Caple is a former longtime writer for ESPN and the St. Paul Pioneer Press based in Seattle. He has covered sports on six continents, including 12 Olympics and 20 World Series. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.