Megan Rapinoe has not yet played at the soccer World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, which is set to be her last major tournament, but emotions are already running high. The exceptional player’s announcement that she would retire at the end of the year hit her teammates hard. “I think that it allows me to concentrate better, and the team can also concentrate better,” said Rapinoe himself on the sidelines of training in Auckland, where the US team is preparing, in front of the DW camera. “We don’t have to be asked questions every time, every single game. I can just enjoy it and focus on winning the tournament.” It would be the third consecutive world title, the fifth overall for the United States.
Defender Kelley O’Hara, who has shared the pitch with Rapinoe at the past three tournaments in Germany, Canada and France, choked back tears as she spoke about her team-mate’s influence on the four-time world champion. “There has never been a player quite like her and there probably never will be one who comes close,” she said. “The world sees her as an incredible person and an incredible human being. And she is that up close and personal. She brings a sense of humor and an ease, but at the same time intensity and empathy,” added O’Hara. “She has done such incredible things for this team and for the world that it is really special to see her up close.”
Aside from her sporting achievements on the field, including two world titles and an Olympic gold medal, Rapinoe is considered a figurehead and a strong voice for the team on social and political issues. The 38-year-old former Ballon d’Or winner has never shied away from speaking up for LGBTQ rights or abortion rights and has been at the forefront of the team’s fight for equality with their male counterparts.
Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher confirmed that Rapinoe took on the burden of being the constant voice to save many others on the team from being distracted from their focus on the pitch. “Her influence goes way beyond this team. What’s special about her is that she’s taking on such a big role,” explained Naeher. “Because she’s such a big presence, she’s willing to put in a lot of extra work. She takes on the tough questions, the tough things that allow other people to not have to be a factor.”
Kristie Mewis: “Her legacy will live on”
Both for teammates who have been on the court with Rapinoe for many years, and for those competing in her first major tournament in Australia and New Zealand, the presence and charisma Rapinoe brings to the field will be difficult to overcome be replace.
“I can’t imagine the team without her. We try to experience as much as possible with her,” said midfielder Andi Sullivan, one of 14 World Cup debutants in the US squad. “Megan brings all of those things into the world,” she added. “How she’s still able to connect with people and offer so much warmth and comfort, which is pretty crazy for someone who is such a big personality.”
“I keep telling Megan: Do one more lap, come on, we need you for another lap,” said Kristie Mewis, who, although she has been playing for the US team for ten years with breaks, also competes in Australia and New Zealand takes part in the first World Cup.
“She just embodies the team and you feel weird when she’s not there,” says Mewis. “She has that presence that you long for, that you want on and off the field. It’s really sad that this will be her last tournament but her legacy will live on for a long time to come.”
The text has been adapted from English.