Now Fully Healthy, Megan Rapinoe Is Back to Her Best
August 02, 2017
MEGAN RAPINOE doesn’t answer the question at first. Perhaps she misheard it, or maybe she doesn’t want to brag.
Dancing around it, she first talks about how she’s improved her strength and her diet. Then she explains how she’s recovering better between games than in the past. Eventually, though, she gets around to a more direct answer and decides that if she has to rank it, she’s in the best form of her life.
“I think this is the longest streak of consistency that I’ve had—the best that I’ve played,” said Rapinoe, speaking to the media after the United States women’s national team’s 4-3 comeback win over Brazil on Sunday. “Obviously, we’ll see when the big championships come around. What you can do then is really where you make your money.”
Two games into the Tournament of Nations and ahead of the U.S.’ final match against Japan on Thursday (10pm PT, ESPN2), the winger has been a bright spot for an American attack that failed to find the net against Australia in the first game of the tournament and struggled for most of the match against Brazil.
Rapinoe's impressive form in 2017 is also a big turnaround from the way things went the year before—one dogged by injury and controversy.
In December 2015, Rapinoe tore her ACL during a U.S. training session. With a full recovery period ranging from six months to a year, many assumed the injury had eliminated her from contention for a spot on the 2016 Olympic roster. However, the California native made a remarkable comeback to make the team.
With Olympic rosters capped at 18 players, many criticized the decision of head coach Jill Ellis to bring Rapinoe to Brazil ahead of other, fully fit players—especially as the recovering midfielder dealt with a pair of muscle injuries in the weeks ahead of the tournament.
In the end, Rapinoe ended up only making two appearances in the Olympics and, after coming off the bench in the U.S.’ quarterfinal loss to Sweden, had to be subbed off herself, requiring the Americans to use two substitutions to get her into and out of the game. Speaking of her time in Rio, Rapinoe admits, “I was sort of a shell of myself.”
After the Olympics, Rapinoe returned home and finished out the rest of her club season with the Seattle Reign, but not before generating controversy again. In September, she knelt during the national anthem in Chicago and did so again a few weeks later while representing the U.S.
As Seattle played out the rest of their season, Rapinoe never hit full form and finished the year with only two starts and one goal. In the end, the University of Portland alumna knew she needed more time to recover and needed to stay patient with her body.
“It has been difficult, obviously. I’m coming back from a major injury at the ripe age of 32,” she said, smiling. “It’s a little bit difficult. It took me a little longer than [my previous ACL injuries]. I feel like I’m in a great place now. I feel like I was patient with myself and took the time that I needed.”
Rapinoe currently leads the National Women’s Soccer League with 12 goals and she has produced some of the best sequences thus far for the U.S. in the Tournament of Nations.
Rapinoe’s play has drawn praise from both U.S. head coach Jill Ellis and team captain Carli Lloyd.
“Megan has just been building and building," explained Ellis. “I credit her. She’s worked so hard to get back to this. Her performance in the league—she’s been building momentum. I’m just delighted. I thought [against Australia], she was just fantastic in her performance. I thought [against Brazil], she just drives an engine. There a quality to her, and a strength and a power to her that’s just very impressive.”
“I’m really proud of her,” said Lloyd. “Like her and like everyone, we all go through ups and downs, peaks and valleys. Hers was her ACL and just trying to find her form.”
After Sunday's match against Brazil, Rapinoe commented that the comeback win could pay dividends down the road for the team’s younger players. She even referenced the Americans’ famous rally against Brazil in the 2011 World Cup quarterfinals, where her left-footed service found Abby Wambach for the game-tying goal in stoppage time at the end of the second period of extra-time.
“This was a little bit of vintage U.S. women’s national team,” Rapinoe said. “It was really good for some of the younger players who maybe haven’t been in a world championship, or haven’t had that experience. Sometimes that’s what these games come down to and it’s good to have that in the back pocket.
“Those are the moments that you’re going to need to fall back on when you’re in Dresden and you’re down and you need to get a goal.”
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.