Editor’s note: This article first was published on Aug. 7, 2023.
As her U.S. women’s national team career came to an end in the Round of 16 at the 2023 World Cup, Megan Rapinoe took some time after the loss to reflect on her legacy.
In the moment, her missed penalty kick in the shootout loss to Sweden looms large. Rapinoe – who hadn’t missed a penalty in international play since 2018 – called it “sick joke.” But as the sting of the loss fades, what will remain is what she gave to the game, on the field and off it.
And even in the aching disappointment of defeat, Rapinoe tried to keep everything in perspective.
“I still just feel really grateful and joyful,” she told Fox Sports after the match. “And I know it’s the end and that’s sad, but to know that this is really the only time I’ve been in one of these (post-loss interviews) this early says so much about how much success I’ve been able to have and just how much I’ve loved playing for this team and playing for this country. It’s been an honor.”
As a member of the USWNT since 2006, Rapinoe has won two World Cup titles, an Olympic gold medal, a Ballon d’Or and much, much more. She also has advocated for equal pay and LGBTQ+ rights as a self-described “walking protest.” Before the World Cup, she announced her retirement from the sport at the end of 2023. But Sunday’s loss “doesn’t take away anything from this experience or my career in general,” she said.
With such a long and illustrious career, it can be difficult to pinpoint one moment that stands out among the rest. But Rapinoe pointed to a moment after 2019 World Cup final as one of the most memorable, when fans began to chant for equal pay after the USWNT victory.
“They were saying ‘equal pay,’ but they could’ve been saying a lot of things,” she said. “This team has always fought for so much more, and that’s been the most rewarding part for me. Of course, playing in World Cups and winning championships and doing all that, but to know that we’ve used our really special talent to do something that’s really changed the world forever, I think that means the most to me.”
The 38-year-old forward isn’t the only big-name player to retire from international play following this World Cup. Brazil legend Marta also had announced before the tournament that this would be her final World Cup, and Canada captain Christine Sinclair has hinted at the same.
For many of the players that follow these legends, their journey will about lighting the way that was paved for them for the generations that follow.
“Megan and that generation has paved the way for us,” Lynn Williams said. “And we would be doing them a disservice if we didn’t just continue on that torch and continue to push the needle forward. They fought so much for us off the field and on the field. So we owe a lot to them.”