CHICAGO (AP) — One more victory pose for Megan Rapinoe, part of a fitting exit for one of the best to play the game.
Rapinoe got a triumphant send-off, and the United States beat South Africa 2-0 on Sunday.
Trinity Rodman and Emily Sonnett scored, and the U.S. sent its captain toward retirement with one final victory as a member of the national team.
The 38-year-old Rapinoe was presented a framed jersey representing her 203 games with the United States, and she raised her arms as the crowd roared before the victory. The cheers didn’t seem to stop until she was finished addressing the crowd after the win and headed into the tunnel.
“I know that I am a liked player,” she said. “And I know that I mean a lot to the game. But to have this night come and to actually feel it and see it — from my teammates, from our staff and certainly from the fans, who have been such a huge part of our success on and off the field, really — it was very special.”
Rodman put the U.S. in front when she drilled the ball into the net off a cross from Alex Morgan in the 18th minute. Rapinoe was the first to hug her.
Sonnett made it 2-0 with a header in the 49th minute and then jumped into the arms of Rapinoe, whose corner kick caused some trouble in front of the net. Sonnett then turned her around, and Rapinoe struck that familiar victory pose, with her legs together and arms spread wide.
Rapinoe came close to scoring, but missed just high on a free kick. She exited the international stage for one final time to a standing ovation in the 54th minute, kissing and hugging her teammates and blowing a kiss to the crowd and bowing.
There was a video tribute following the game. An emotional Rapinoe then addressed the crowd, at one point having some fun with Lindsey Horan for crying, telling her “Pull it together, Lindsey. She’s not handling it well.”
Rapinoe announced in July that she was retiring after an illustrious career that included a pair of World Cup championships as well as gold and bronze medals in the Olympics. She used her platform make an impact beyond the pitch, fighting for equal pay and social justice.
In recent weeks, she’s been showing her emotions.
Rapinoe let them flow following the U.S. loss to Sweden at this summer’s Women’s World Cup, knowing it would be her last tournament with the national team. She did it again last weekend, when she played her final rivalry match between her NWSL team, OL Reign, and the Portland Thorns. And Sunday was another one when the tears flowed.
“She radiates acceptance and love,” forward Midge Purce said.
Horan got choked up talking about Rapinoe.
“It’s really hard for me because I’m losing, just, an idol,” she said. “It’s hard. That’s what you’ve looked up to. It’s another reason why you fall in love with the game, those kinds of players that you watch on TV do those things. And you come in and now you’re training with them everyday? It’s freakin’ wild.”
Rapinoe still has a few more regular-season games for the Reign, including a send-off match for local fans in Seattle on Oct. 6, before her career comes to an end. And what a remarkable career it has been.
She entered her final match for the United States with 63 goals, including two directly from corner kicks at the Olympics. At the 2019 World Cup in France, she scored six goals and took home the Golden Ball as top player.
Besides establishing herself as one of the best to play the game, she led the long fight for equal pay with the men’s national team.
Rapinoe, who came out publicly in 2012 and got engaged to basketball star Sue Bird in 2020, is outspoken about LGBTQ issues, including transgender rights. In 2022, President Joe Biden made her the first soccer player awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
She showed solidarity with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the fight for racial equity by kneeling during the national anthem. And when she looks in the stands these days, she said she sees a more diverse crowd than when she started.
“It’s a really beautiful thing to look out and see little Black girls and little trans kids and boys with our jerseys on,” Rapinoe said. “I think that’s something that all of us are really proud of and all of us — especially in our generation — know the impact that we’ve made. And we know that it’s a lot different now than when we started.”
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/Soccer