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Megan Rapinoe: USWNT wants equality even ‘at expense of dominance’

Megan Rapinoe played in her last World Cup with the USWNT this summer. (Carmen Mandato/USSF/Getty Images)

Megan Rapinoe has long been at the center of cultural and political battles in women’s soccer, and this summer’s Women’s World Cup was no different.

The U.S. women’s national team forward was the target of right-wing criticism — including from former President Donald Trump — after she missed a penalty kick in the team’s Round of 16 shootout loss to Sweden. The 2023 World Cup marked the USWNT’s worst-ever finish at the tournament.

USWNT players also received backlash from conservative pundits throughout the World Cup for not singing during the playing of the national anthem. And in the backdrop of the adverse reactions to the USWNT, other women’s national teams were dealing with their own conflicts at home. Most notably, Spain won the World Cup on Sunday amid controversy, after 15 players sent a letter to their federation last year detailing concerns about the culture under coach Jorge Vilda.

In Rapinoe’s first interview since the World Cup, which she had announced was her final tournament, the soon-to-be retired star said USWNT players take pride in using their platform to promote gender quality across the sport.

“What I’ve realized for a long time is that we’re playing two games at the same time,” Rapinoe told The Atlantic this week. “One, we’re playing all against each other. And then the other one, we’re all playing together to win equality and progress and what we deserve. We want these other teams to be paid equally, and to have the resources that they deserve, and to not be subjected to misogyny and racism and sexism.

“If that comes at the expense of our own dominance, yeah, we want that. Maybe that’s a novel concept for some people, but it’s not for us.”

Rapinoe joined the chorus in condemning Spanish federation president Luis Rubiales’ forced kiss of Jenni Hermoso during Spain’s World Cup medal ceremony on Sunday, calling it an example of the systemic misogyny in women’s soccer.

She also responded directly to her critics, including Trump.

“I think, just in general, the way that our team was spoken about over the course of the tournament, it was fake,” Rapinoe said. “And it didn’t make sense to me: In 2019, we were ultra-confident, ultra-swaggy — and won everything. And even though we won, we did it in bad taste, according to our critics.

“This time, we weren’t confident enough, and we don’t have the right ‘mentality.’ And so we lost. It’s just so disingenuous. There’s no way for us to win, and there’s no way for us to lose.”

Rapinoe is expected to play in the USWNT’s two friendlies against South Africa in September as her final games with the national team before retiring. The 38-year-old finishes her career with two World Cup titles, with one Olympic gold medal and as the 10th-leading goal scorer in USWNT history.