Megan Rapinoe leaves her final Women’s World Cup with pride after a long career

United States' Megan Rapinoe stands in the corner during the Women's World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Sweden and the United States in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Aug. 6, 2023.
United States’ Megan Rapinoe stands in the corner during the Women’s World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Sweden and the United States in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Aug. 6, 2023.
AP Photo/Hamish Blair

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Megan Rapinoe wanted a different finish for her final Women’s World Cup. Even with the disappointing conclusion, she was grateful for her wildly successful run with the U.S. national team.

Rapinoe’s World Cup career ended on Sunday in the Round of 16, when the United States lost to Sweden on penalties after a scoreless draw. The outspoken 38-year-old announced last month that this would be her last international tournament.

“I wish we were moving on and I could guarantee a championship and all that,” she said. “But it doesn’t take anything from this experience, or my career in general. I feel so lucky and so grateful to play as long as I have, and to be on the successful teams that I have.”

Known for her bright hair colors, Rapinoe teared up as she spoke to reporters after the match. She missed her penalty kick, as did teammates Kelley O’Hara and Sophia Smith.

“I’m ready in a lot of ways to be done,” she said. “I feel at peace with that. So it’s sad but I’m OK.”

At this World Cup, Rapinoe had taken on more of a reserve role. She made her 200th appearance with the team as a substitute in a 3-0 victory over Vietnam to open the tournament. She was also a sub in the final group match against Portugal, a disappointing scoreless draw.

After the loss to Sweden, captain Lindsey Horan and defender Julie Ertz were among those who embraced Rapinoe on the field.

“I just said I love her,” Horan said, welling up.

“It’s been a journey with her,” Ertz said. “She’s been an incredible player for so long. I just wanted to make sure I was able to tell her that.”

It was the team’s earliest exit from the World Cup. The United States won the last two tournaments and four overall, most of any nation. The team had never finished lower than third.

At the 2019 World Cup in France, Rapinoe scored six goals, including a penalty in a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in the final. She also finished with three assists and claimed both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball for the best overall player.

Her victory pose, arms outstretched, became one of the iconic images of the dominant U.S. run.

Rapinoe also led the U.S. women’s long fight for equal pay with their male national team counterparts. Both teams reached contracts with U.S. Soccer last year that paid them equally and split tournament prize money.

As a fierce advocate for social justice issues, including gender equity and LGBTQ rights, she was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Joe Biden last year.

After joining the national team in 2006, she finishes her international career with two Women’s World Cup titles and an Olympic gold medal. She also won the Ballon d’Or and the Best FIFA Women’s Player awards — the game’s top individual honors — for her play in 2019.

“I don’t think there’s enough words to talk about Megan and her impact on this sport,” forward Lynn Williams said. “From equality, to human rights, the list goes on and on. So that’s going to sting a little bit, not to see her on this team and wearing the crest anymore.

“I can’t wait to see what she’s going to do in her next life, her next career.”

At her final World Cup, Rapinoe was the elder stateswoman on a team that had 14 players appearing for the first time in the tournament. Like former teammates Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd, she now will step aside to make way for the next generation.

Rapinoe is not necessarily done with soccer. She has said she will play out the season with her club team, OL Reign, in the National Women’s Soccer League. She may say goodbye to fans back home in a few more U.S. matches to wrap up the year.

But her tournament days are over. In her 202 overall appearances for the United States, she has scored 63 goals.

“I feel really proud, really proud of this team, really proud of all the players I’ve played with. I’ve just loved every moment of my career,” she said. “I’ll just miss it to death, but it also feels like the right time. And that’s OK.”