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Women’s World Cup 2019: Rapinoe conquers critics, doubters, haters, the Netherlands — and the planet

first_imgImmediately after the final whistle blew on a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands to signal the United States had claimed its record fourth FIFA Women’s World Cup title, there were moments in which Megan Rapinoe could share the thrill with her teammates. The greatest would come later, when the trophy was presented and lifted and then bathed in a shower of confetti.The instant that summed up the 2019 Women’s World Cup, though, came in between. Rapinoe had marched twice through the handshake line of dignitaries and onto the makeshift stage at Lyon Olympic Stadium, first to accept the Golden Boot presented to the tournament’s leading scorer and then to accept the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player. With a hunk of gold in each hand, Rapinoe stood alone in front of the TV cameras and the still photographers and the full audience of fans and raised her arms skyward in a “V.” She had backed it all up — as well as anyone could.MORE: 10 crazy facts from the USWNT’s victory in the Women’s World CupRapinoe became the Namath for the 21st century.“We’re crazy. That’s what makes us special,” Rapinoe told Fox Sports on the field. “We just have no quit on us. We’re so tight. And we’ll do anything to win.”The attention on her when the tournament began hadn’t been extraordinary. She was a key veteran on the left side of coach Jill Ellis’ 4-3-3 formation, one of the truly excellent players in American soccer history. Rapinoe was expected to perform, but no more so than Alex Morgan in the center or Tobin Heath on the right.Rapinoe had had her moment of controversy in 2016, when she chose to kneel for the national anthem as one of many athletes who had followed the lead of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. But U.S. Soccer wisely — and rightly — insisted a player who is wearing the U.S. crest ought to stand for its anthem, and that was that.We were in a very different place as the tournament ended.The day the U.S. played Spain in the round of 16, the website “The Hill” published an exclusive quoting president Donald Trump as saying, “No, I don’t think so,” when asked if Rapinoe should “protest during the national anthem.” Which was kind of interesting, because she wasn’t really protesting. Not singing? Not putting her hand over her heart? That’s not a protest, sorry.From that misleading article came the result that might have been expected. Many of the president’s supporters became fans of whatever opponent the USWNT faced on their run through the World Cup gantlet: Spain, France, England and ultimately, Sunday against the Netherlands.When a six-month old clip was released of Rapinoe responding to a question during a magazine photo shoot about whether she would visit the White House if the U.S. won the World Cup, the noise around Rapinoe grew cacophonous. To be fair, her rejection of the suggestion should not have included a profanity, especially given that it modified not the word “going” but “White House,” which is why her eventual apology was worthwhile and necessary.It wasn’t accepted, though, not widely by those now mounting against her.MORE: Megan Rapinoe explains United States’ celebrations in face of criticismShe kept her cool in the face of this sudden notoriety. It almost seemed to fuel her. She did not hide from the commotion. She spoke to the media at every opportunity: eloquently, insightfully, defiantly, honestly, brilliantly. She did so two days before the final, and at the official matchday-minus-1 presser in Lyon, Rapinoe was the player chosen to accompany Ellis to the podium.Over the course of the past two weeks, Rapinoe handled questions about her political disagreement with the Trump administration, about her political disagreement with FIFA. A lesser athlete, a lesser person, might have been overwhelmed by the imposing burden she helped to fashion for herself.However, when Morgan was kicked in the shoulder by Netherlands center back Stefanie van der Gragt in the 58th minute of a tense final Sunday, and when it was decided after a three-minute video review that Morgan had earned a penalty, Rapinoe stood behind the spot and prepared herself for the decisive play of the 2019 World Cup. She’d already scored twice on penalties, so goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal had a book on Rapinoe. What could Rapinoe do that would deceive the keeper at this point?The answer: disguise. Rapinoe did not even hint which direction she would strike the kick as she approached. There was no tell. When Rapinoe was on the ball, van Veenendaal felt she had to do something, so she threw her weight to her right. And then she realized Rapinoe had shot to her left. Sure, van Veenendaal could have thrown herself to the ground to make it look like she’d just guessed wrong. Instead, she just stood and watched over her shoulder as Rapinoe’s mastery ripped into the net.Rapinoe, 34, had become the oldest player to score in a Women’s World Cup. And the U.S. had the game-winning goal.Midfielder Rose Lavelle’s individual brilliance, fueled by a perfect interception from left back Crystal Dunn, will go down as the game-clincher and the most artistic U.S. goal of the 2019 World Cup.“That was what she was missing, just that little bit,” Rapinoe told Fox Sports. “All tournament, she’s been on the dribble, so dangerous for us. She’s opened up everything for us. For her to get that reward tonight on the biggest stage that you possibly can — I’m so proud of her. She’s a superstar — not even in the making. She’s a straight-up superstar at this point.”Becky Sauerbrunn’s 90 mountainous minutes in central defense, Julie Ertz’s best international game ever as a defensive midfielder, Dunn’s dominance of the left and Ali Krieger’s one half filled with crucial interventions on the right in relief of concussed Kelley O’Hara were keys to earning a shutout. “It’s unbelievable, just to know all of the people in our group who put in so much work,” Rapinoe said. “I don’t know how to feel right now.“It’s ridiculous.”There will be some who say this without smiling. Rapinoe, though, also conquered them.last_img read more

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