By Arnie Leshin
On Sunday, Megan Rapinoe will play her final soccer match in a United States uniform. Good.
The red, while and blue will play South Africa at Chicago’s Soldier Field. You can catch the 38-year-old Rapinoe at 3:30 p.m. on TNT. After this, she figures to play a few more games for the regular-season Reign that includes a send-off match for local fans in Seattle on Oct. 6.
What kind of mood will she be in? Who knows, most times, nobody does, not even she. I won’t miss the roller coaster ride she went in, not so in her early years where in her freshmen season at the University of Porland she helped lead the Pilots to the NCAA Division 1 championship in 2005.
Those were her good days. She proved to be a team leader, everything was working out.
But that was then. Strange times though occurred when she was named to the U.S. team and played the World Cup in France. It was the year 2019, and in the semifinals the Americans were playing Germany. Before the matches, countries would always honor the playing of their national anthem.
But when it was time for the United States’ turn, it appeared that Rapinoe had something else in mind, politics perhaps. She looked down the line of her U.S. team and signaled it to forget responding to the anthem, just kneel down and then await game time.
If that made her happy, the team was half in half out, some were puzzled, some just looked toward each other, especially at the veteran Rapinoe, then 34.
The cup was won over the Netherlands and Rapinoe scored six times, that was great, but the team two days later had a parade designed for it to march down the main streets of New York City, but a short ways down, Rapinoe suddenly looked towards her teammates and signaled them to stroll towards the sidewalk and introduce some dance steps. Most laughed, I thought it was a rather dumb thing to do after winning a world soccer title.
But this was a different Rapinoe. She found politics. She spoke out against Donald Trump, a Republican running for president. She didn’t give many reasons, just shrugged him off.
Her practices became less. Her parties increased. She did some political talking on the tubes, the radio.
Still, some recognized her as an incredible person and human being, that she brought a sense of humor and lightness, had intensity and empathy, and one of a kind.
Yup, she sure was. But where did the sudden switch come through? She now brought a lot of politics to the U.S. locker room, had numerous shortcomings with players, and was in a different world. She had flipped.
But her reputation on the pitch followed her. She was the recipient of a room full of honors — medals, trophies, etc. She had huge number of supporters that paid more attention to Rapinoe’s past.
She had a dismal time at the recent World Cup won by Spain. She came on in the second half against Sweden, missed two close-up shots, and in the penalty shots, she readied for her chance to bring the Americans a 4-2 lead, but was way short with a shot over the goalkeeper’s head.
She laughed it off then and after. It was her latest shrug of the shoulder, but she just wasn’t the same anymore. Her usual array of kicks and headers were gone, but her teammates, coaches and fans stuck with her. Why? No clue, she was done, worked out, blame politics, her disposition, her annoyance of the U.S.A. she once spoke up for, etc. etc. etc.
But for all of her accomplishments in the game, she is probably just as well known for her off-the-field advocacy and activism. Some passed over this, judged the once stellar player by her on-field times.
What’s going to sting a little bit is not see her on this team and wearing the crest anymore.
No doubt about it, she’s had her ups and downs, and people like myself who go back to the soccer years of the great Pele playing for the Cosmos, will always carry those roller coaster opinions.