Megan Rapinoe, who announced on Saturday that she planned to retire from professional soccer later this year, rose to stardom in part because of her outspoken political views and her leadership in her sport beyond the field. But much of that was possible because her career on the field had so many highlight-reel-worthy moments.
She is expected to soon reach 200 appearances for the U.S. women’s national team. She has 63 goals in her international career and is one of only seven American women with more than 50 goals and 50 assists in international competition.
She was the second pick of the 2009 draft of the defunct Women’s Professional Soccer league, and played the majority of her club career with the Seattle Reign of the National Women’s Soccer League. She won a French title with Lyon, a Ballon d’Or as world player of the year and Olympic medals in two colors.
But it has always been the moments and the creativity of her offense, not the volume of goals or assists, that truly set Rapinoe apart. Here’s a look at some of her best touches.
2011 World Cup
The U.S. women’s national team finished third in the 2003 and 2007 World Cups, failing to capitalize on the momentum of its win in 1999. In 2011, it was facing a humbling early exit when it trailed Brazil, 2-1 in overtime, during a quarterfinal match.
The game was already in stoppage time when Rapinoe got the ball from Carli Lloyd near midfield. She took one dribble, looked up and sent a long ball toward the far post, where Abby Wambach was waiting.
Wambach rose behind Brazil’s goalkeeper and headed the ball into the net, delivering what is considered one of the greatest goals in the history of the women’s game. The Americans went on to win in a penalty-kick shootout, though they later lost an epic final to Japan.
The United States faced Canada in the women’s soccer semifinal of the 2012 London Olympics. Down by 1-0 in the second half, Rapinoe made Olympic history by scoring what is known as an “Olimpico” — a goal that finds the net directly off a corner kick. She was the first woman to do it in the Games. Then she repeated the feat during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
2015 World Cup
In the first game of the 2015 World Cup, a matchup with Australia, Rapinoe scored twice to lead her team to a 3-1 victory. In the 12th minute, after battling for a contested ball, Rapinoe made a full 360-degree spin at the top of the box before collecting herself with a couple touches and firing a shot from 20 yards out. The ball ricocheted off a Canadian defender and found the back of the net.
2019 World Cup
The U.S. entered the 2019 World Cup in France looking to become the first women’s team to repeat as World Cup champion. Rapinoe put together a career run — winning both the Golden Boot, for most goals (six) and the Golden Ball as the tournament’s outstanding player. But it was her goal against France in front of 45,000 onlookers that sent her on her way.
A master at set pieces, Rapinoe stepped up to take a free kick in the early minutes of what many expected to be a tense and pivotal match. She sent a streaking ball through the box that wound its way through the legs of multiple teammates and defenders and into the back of the net. Rapinoe celebrated by running to the sideline and spreading her arms wide, a gesture that became her signature celebration, and the lasting memory of a tournament where she was regularly in the right place at the right moment.
Tokyo Olympics, 2021
Looking to build off two consecutive World Cup victories, the U.S. women’s national team headed to Tokyo in 2021 to play in Olympic Games that had been delayed a year because of the coronavirus pandemic. In the quarterfinals, the U.S. and the Netherlands squared off in a World Cup finals rematch. The game went to penalties after a 2-2 draw, where it was Rapinoe’s dagger to the upper right corner that sent the United States to the semifinal.