After more than 200 caps for the United States, Megan Rapinoe is calling it quits. The 38-year-old, who made her international debut in 2006, will play her last game for the U.S. women's national team on Sunday in a friendly against South Africa. She announced in July she planned to retire after the 2023 Women's World Cup.
Rapinoe will go down as one of the all-time greats for the USWNT for her on-field contributions as much as what she did off the field. With two World Cup titles, an Olympic gold medal and a slew of other accolades, it's no surprise that her career was filled with memorable, big moments.
Here is a look back at Rapinoe's career through the lens of her biggest and most memorable moments.
2019 Women's World Cup: 'The pose'
No single image will be more closely tied to Rapinoe's legacy than this one: feet planted together, arms outstretched, a smirk on her face -- that was how she celebrated her opening goal in France for a top-billed quarterfinal clash against the 2019 Women's World Cup hosts at Parc des Princes.
The pose was statuesque -- it felt fitting that she did it in the land of the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay. But it was also a complicated gesture that showed both confidence and vulnerability, defiance and affection all at the same time. It was an expression of joy, and also a clapback to Donald Trump and his supporters, who rooted against Rapinoe and the USWNT when she said she didn't want to go to his White House if the U.S. won the World Cup.
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She busted out the pose again in the World Cup final en route to beating the Netherlands. Fun fact: Rapinoe actually debuted this celebration two months before the World Cup at a friendly in Colorado against Australia. (I remember it distinctly because I was there, and when she did the pose after scoring, she faced directly toward the press box and I laughed out loud. The celebration was playful and cheeky then, but it took on a whole new meaning once she got to France.)
2019: Rapinoe buoys the equal pay lawsuit
It's one thing to have a disagreement with your boss. It's another to sue your boss three months before the most important event of your career, the Women's World Cup. That's what Rapinoe and four of her teammates did in 2019, accusing U.S. Soccer of paying the women's team less than their male counterparts, despite driving more revenue.
In the news release announcing the lawsuit, Rapinoe said: "We feel a responsibility not only to stand up for what we know we deserve as athletes, but also for what we know is right -- on behalf of our teammates, future teammates, fellow women athletes, and women all around the world."
It was hardly a new fight for Rapinoe. She had been a key figure in the precursor to the lawsuit too as one of the players to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission back in 2016. That complaint was required as a first step before the players could outright sue U.S. Soccer.
But Rapinoe, with her heroics at the 2019 Women's World Cup, played arguably the biggest role in the lawsuit. Whether it's right or wrong, the USWNT winning the 2019 tournament probably did more to help their lawsuit than anything that their lawyers could've done.
When the USWNT won the World Cup and the players were collecting their trophies -- Rapinoe won the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball -- the crowd in France chanted "Equal pay! Equal pay!"
The matter would not be settled until 2022, when a landmark agreement between U.S. Soccer and the USWNT ensured the women would have larger performance bonuses and a large share of World Cup prize money than ever before. With largely the same contracts as the U.S. men's national team, the USWNT had achieved equal pay.
2015 Women's World Cup: A hot start for the USWNT
Although the USWNT won the 2015 World Cup, it certainly wasn't remembered as a great tournament for the Americans. They had a relatively slow start, only really starting to play their best soccer by the time the semifinal stage rolled around.
But Rapinoe ensured the Americans got a favorable path through the tournament with a stellar opening game against Australia. There were moments of individual brilliance from Rapinoe -- first she won a contested ball, turned around a defender and fired, her shot deflecting into the goal. Then she scored a decisive third goal to put that match out of reach for Australia, taking it herself and firing from just inside the box, slipping it past the near post.
Thanks to Rapinoe's stellar performance, the USWNT topped Group D and eventually went on to win the whole tournament.
2011 Women's World Cup: A watershed assist
If you haven't seen the 2011 quarterfinal between the USWNT and Brazil and you don't know what happened, then pause what you're doing now and go watch it. But if you have seen it, you surely haven't forgotten it.
The USWNT were trailing Brazil 2-1 in stoppage time of extra time after some very dubious referee decisions and on the brink of their earliest elimination in World Cup history. The referee would surely blow her whistle any moment, so when Rapinoe got the ball at her feet in the 122nd minute, she had to try to make something happen.
Rapinoe lofted a ball up the field with her left foot, searching for the head of forward Abby Wambach. She found it as Wambach beat Brazilian goalkeeper Andréia for the ball. The sound of the ball smacking the back of the net rattled throughout the stadium in Dresden, Germany, and Ian Darke, the announcer for ESPN, yelled at the top of his lungs to Americans watching on TV: "Oh, can you believe this?! Abby Wambach has saved the USA's life in this World Cup!" Well, Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe.
Rapinoe described it as such afterward: "I just took a touch and friggin' smacked it." That goal forced the game to penalty kicks, which the U.S. prevailed on, and how they fell in the 2011 final. But that singular moment -- Rapinoe's cross to Wambach's head -- was a turning point for the USWNT. Suddenly, after a lull since Mia Hamm and her teammates retired in 2005, the U.S. women's team became popular and relevant to mainstream audiences again, and that popularity has endured to this day.
As Wambach later said: "The power of that goal is amazing. People tell me all the time how they remember where they were when that happened. It's cool that I was a part of it, but I think it's more cool to kind of look at it from an evolutionary aspect, to see where the game was and where the game has gone. That's kind of the pivotal turning point. Not to take anything away from our Olympic gold medal in 2012, but we really felt there was a huge shift in the popularity of women's soccer in 2011."
2012 Olympics: An Olimpico against bitter rivals Canada
Since Wambach mentioned the 2012 Olympics, let's talk about it. Wambach is right -- the 2012 Olympics didn't have nearly the cultural impact that the 2011 Women's World Cup or the 2019 Women's World Cup did, but it was an important tournament that the USWNT won and featured one of the most classic thrillers in all of USWNT history.
The USWNT and Canada had always had a rivalry based on geographic proximity, but it was a lopsided one. Going into the 2012 Olympics, Canada hadn't beaten the U.S. in 11 years, but quickly it became clear their semifinal meeting at Old Trafford was going to be lit.
Up until this game went off the rails, Rapinoe single-handedly kept the USWNT in it when Canada and captain Christine Sinclair were outplaying the Americans. First, after the USWNT went down a goal, Rapinoe bended the ball into the goal directly from a corner kick -- a rare goal known as an "Olimpico." Then, after the USWNT went down again, Rapinoe fired a rocket from the farthest corner of the box, which bounced off the far post and in -- a beautiful strike.
After that, Canada scored again and ... well, confounding refereeing and some bonkers never-to-be-repeated sequences allowed the USWNT to win 4-3, and the Americans eventually won the gold medal against Japan.
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2021 Olympics: Another Olimpico for a medal
How about another Olimpico, this time in a medal match? The 2020 Olympics was a weird tournament because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the USWNT did not look good for pretty much the entire competition. That is, until the bronze-medal match, when the Americans and Rapinoe found their shooting boots.
Rapinoe opened the scoring early directly off a corner, curling the ball straight into the net. Then, Rapinoe capitalized on a poor clearance to score a stunning full volley. Her two goals were crucial as the match ended 4-3 and the USWNT left a bad tournament with some hardware to show for it.
2016: Rapinoe joins kneeling protest
After NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the national anthem to call attention to racial inequality in America and was vilified for it, Rapinoe wanted to show support for his cause. On Sept. 4, 2016, she kneeled before a match for her club team, the Seattle Reign. Eleven days later, she did the same on U.S. national team duty.
At the time, Rapinoe explained the protest was not a gesture of disrespect for the U.S. flag but rather the opposite, guided by her belief in the promise of freedom it's supposed to represent. She said: "When I take a knee, I am facing the flag with my full body, staring straight into the heart of our country's ultimate symbol of freedom -- because I believe it is my responsibility, just as it is yours, to ensure that freedom is afforded to everyone in this country."
Whether those who disagreed with her didn't understand her position or didn't care about her explanation, her protest quickly made her a political lightning rod for U.S. Soccer. The federation toed a line where it didn't formally punish her for kneeling or publicly chastise her, but U.S. Soccer issued a statement saying that there's "an expectation" that players stand, and the board later passed a bylaw that required players to stand.
That new rule effectively put an end to her protest for the national team -- at least until the murder of George Floyd in 2020 caused many Americans to reconsider their stance on the kneeling protest. But her actions thrust Rapinoe into the political discourse, where she has stayed ever since. Kneeling or not, it doesn't matter. As she once put it: "I feel like I'm a walking protest."
Since 2016, she's been an outspoken advocate of equal pay, racial equality and trans rights, all while representing the United States at the highest levels. She has said calling on America to be better while representing America shows how patriotic she really is.
"I feel very fortunate to be in this country. I'd never be able to do this in a lot of other places. But also that doesn't mean we can't get better," she told reporters during the 2019 World Cup. "And it doesn't mean that we shouldn't always strive to be better. I think this country was founded on a lot of great ideals, but it was also founded on slavery. And I think we just need to be really honest about that and be really open in talking about that so we can reconcile that and hopefully move forward and make this country better for everyone."
2012: Rapinoe comes out as gay
It's hard to even put this on the list because it wasn't so much a huge announcement as it was the sharing of a factoid, like any other. Rapinoe revealed she's gay in the 2012 edition of Out magazine because, as she explained in the interview: "People want -- they need -- to see that there are people like me playing soccer for the good ol' U.S. of A."
Rapinoe throughout her career has never held back who she is, and the same was true of her sexuality. The way she explained it was that no one had ever directly asked her, so she just wanted to confirm it before the 2012 Olympics and get it out of the way.
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As Rapinoe later explained in her autobiography: "Nothing happened. In the best possible way, it was a complete nonevent. My sponsors didn't cancel me. I didn't get an angry call from Nike. There was no negative blowback, or, if there was, I didn't see it."
2018 Tournament of Nations: Rapinoe the spy
If you want a single sequence to describe Megan Rapinoe's personality as a player outside of her many goals and assists, this might be the perfect one.
During the Tournament of Nations in 2018, Brazil players huddled to discuss their approach for a free kick -- until they noticed Rapinoe had been standing with them in the huddle the whole time.
It was a harmless and comical bit of sabotage -- the Brazil players were presumably speaking in Portuguese, which Rapinoe doesn't speak. But Marta's double take when she realized Rapinoe had been standing there the whole time eavesdropping will never stop being funny.
Rapinoe's smile once caught is indicative of how she always played the game. Even when complaining to a referee -- like when she has mimed pretending to be looking in the referee's pocket to make sure there was a yellow card in there -- she does it with a breezy grin.
Rapinoe made the game fun and spontaneous, and that's one of the reasons she had become a fan favorite long before she won any trophies for the USWNT.
2005: Rapinoe's first title spurs first USWNT call
Only fans of the Portland Pilots might remember this one, but this is a nod to where it all began for Rapinoe. In 2005, then a college freshman at the University of Portland, Rapinoe helped lead her school to the College Cup Championship, and there Rapinoe played a key role.
In the first three minutes of the championship game, Rapinoe laid off a nice assist for the opening goal. Then she returned late in the second half for a beautiful goal -- she beat her defender with a cutback and fired from just outside the box with a well-placed finish. The Pilots won 4-0, winning the national title after an undefeated season.
This trophy came before Rapinoe made her USWNT debut, and before Rapinoe went pro, but her first callup for the USWNT came just one month later, and it undoubtedly launched one of the all-time great careers in American soccer.