American soccer icon Megan Rapinoe exited her final professional game on Saturday with an injury before Gotham FC defeated Rapinoe’s OL Reign 2-1 Saturday to win its first ever National Women’s Soccer League.
In the third minute of the match while both teams were tied 0-0, Rapinoe went down with a non-contact injury. Training staff attended to the 38-year-old athlete, who remained down on the turf for about two minutes.
The two-time World Cup winner limped off the field accompanied by the trainers at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego, California, and was replaced by substitute Bethany Balcer.
The Olympic champion later told game broadcaster CBS she suspects that she tore her Achilles tendon.
“This is a tough one, definitely not how I envisioned this last one going,” Rapinoe said.
Rapinoe did return to the sideline in a walking boot after briefly leaving the field and appeared to be in high spirits.
“Thank you to everyone who’s been on the journey for all this time. It’s been amazing. I couldn’t, besides this (injury), I couldn’t have written it any different,” she added.
“Just super proud of my whole career and really thankful for all that it’s given me and for how long I’ve been able to play. So even though it was a tough night it was still amazing, and so thankful to be here.
“And again, so proud of our group and congrats to Gotham.”
Saturday’s match marked the last time Rapinoe and Ali Krieger, a fellow US Women’s National Team legend, would take to the pitch as Krieger’s Gotham FC took on OL Reign.
The two soccer greats, who were set to say farewell to the professional sport on November 11, have been friends and teammates for much of their illustrious careers.
Ahead of the game, in the final pre-match press conference of her career, an emotional Rapinoe couldn’t hold back the tears.
“I’ve always tried to play the game the right way, always tried to enjoy it,” she told reporters when answering a question on her legacy. “At the end of the day, I feel like we are in the entertainment business and especially in a growing sport and a growing league, I feel like that’s really important.
“I’ve always tried to make things better and I just walk away so proud and so happy of not only my contributions to the game but the era that I’ve played in. Knowing that the game is in such a better place and that’s testament to all the players that have played in this generation and played in this league, some of us playing with the national team.
“A huge media deal just got announced, this league was insane this year, it was so much fun to watch and be a part of, all the storylines, so I feel like I get to walk away just smiling no matter what and really proud of my entire career.”
Despite the occasion of Saturday’s final, Rapinoe said everything in the buildup to the game has been “exactly the same,” including her getting the ball kicked between her legs – or nutmegged – during passing drills in training.
“I get megged all the time in rondos,” Rapinoe laughed.
The 38-year-old, a two-time World Cup winner and Olympic gold medalist with the USA, walks away from women’s soccer knowing that the future of the sport looks bright.
The NWSL, the top professional women’s league in the US, announced on Thursday what it called a “landmark” media deal that will ensure 118 of the league’s matches during the 2024 season will be shown across Amazon Prime, ION, CBS, Paramount Plus and ESPN.
“These partnerships fundamentally change the game for our league and the players who take the pitch each week,” NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement. “This is the beginning of our future.”
In addition to all she has achieved on the pitch, Rapinoe’s legacy extends far beyond soccer’s white lines.
The midfielder from California has become an influential campaigner, a philanthropist, a fashion icon and an advocate of equal rights across society.
Throughout her career, Rapinoe has stood up for many issues including racial equality, women’s rights, pay parity and LGBTQ+ issues, to name just a few.
Perhaps it was written in the stars that both Rapinoe and Krieger would enjoy their last dance on the pitch together in the NWSL Championship game.
On Monday, after both teams had booked their places in the final, Krieger revealed on Instagram a two-month-old text exchange she had with Rapinoe.
When asked by Rapinoe when her last game was, Krieger confidently stated it would be on November 11.
“Well I guess that’s my last game too,” Rapinoe replied.
Krieger has enjoyed a similarly stellar career to her USA teammate, also playing a crucial role in the team’s World Cup victories in 2015 and 2019.
The 39-year-old defender is also a Champions League winner, lifting the trophy with Frankfurt in 2008, and has an array of individual awards that reflect her outstanding abilities on the pitch.
Krieger, whose final pre-match press conference was comically interrupted by spiders falling on the desk, echoed Rapinoe’s sentiments on the growth of the league throughout her career.
“It was definitely rough at the beginning,” she told reporters. “I was basically fighting for socks to wear at training for some of the players and at times we had to wash our own clothes, so we’ve definitely come a long way.
“Over the years, no matter what team you’re on, no matter where you’re from in this country and who you play for, at the end of the way we [the players] have each other’s backs. We have power in numbers and I think we’ve seen that over the years.
“We know how to fight for one another, we know to fight for what’s best for this league and for these players and so that is, ultimately, I think what I’m most proud of in leaving this game better than where we found it.”
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