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Rapinoe Shoots for History in Champions League Final

The midfielder will become the fifth American woman in history to play in a Champions League final. Maura Gladys explains how she got here, where she is, and where she is going.
BY Maura Gladys Posted
May 22, 2013
2:11 PM
When she walks onto the field at Stamford Bridge on Thursday, Megan Rapinoe will try to make history. She plays for high-powered Olympique Lyonnais, so the odds are good that she will win the Champions League trophy.

Lyon has been the female counterpart to Bayern Munich this year. It’s a European giant that has already locked up its domestic league and advanced to its country’s cup final. Unlike Bayern, however, Lyon is not chasing an elusive European championship. The club seeks a third straight CL title.

The French champion's road to the Champions League final reflects that dominance. Lyon steamrolled through the tournament, outscoring opponents 28-1, including a 9-1 aggregate win over semifinal opponents Juvisy.

Rapinoe's team will play upstart Wolfsburg, who is a heavy underdog due to injury and lack of experience. The German squad won its first Bundesliga and German Cup titles this season, and is looking to take the next step to European success. Its rough style matches up well for Rapinoe who, despite her five-foot-six frame, is not afraid to get physical or mix it up with her opponent.

Lyon is stacked at every spot on the field. It features French national team stars Elodie Thomis, Eugénie Le Sommer, Camille Abily, Louisa Necib, Laura Georges, and Sonia Bompastor along with Japanese attacker Shinobu Ohno and Swedish legend Lotta Schelin. There’s no real starting lineup for Lyon. Instead, head coach Patrice Lair has rotated in 23 players across all competitions, with each playing at least five full games.

Despite the deep talent pool, Rapinoe has made a splash. She scored two goals this season, one in the Champions League quarterfinals against Malmo and one in the semifinal romp over Juvisy. She showed that she deserves a place on the field.

Rapinoe is employed primarily as a left winger in Lyon’s 4-3-3 formation, working up top with Schelin, a five-foot-10 forward similar in stature and skill to Abby Wambach and the club’s all-time leading goal scorer.

“I think that in the short time we've played together we've built a pretty good connection,” Rapinoe told UEFA. “But she's such a good forward, she makes really smart runs. She plays how I would want to play if I was a forward, so I think we're kind of on the same page a lot.”

Rapinoe’s partnership with Schelin, and her time with other world-class players, including Necib, who terrorized the American midfield and defense in the 2011 World Cup, will only help Rapinoe develop as an individual and be great on a team packed with talent. You know, like the U.S.

Rapinoe is aware of her place as a pioneer.

“It means a lot,” Rapinoe said. “To be a trailblazer in that sense to hopefully have others follow in that way, but to be one of the first ones to do it is pretty cool.”

The fact that Rapinoe can hang with a European powerhouse is a big deal, for both herself and the American program. Not everyone is cut out for European play, but there are players who benefit immensely from the level of play and the overall challenge. Rapinoe, along with Ali Krieger, represents the first wave American women that are making a true impact on European sides, the Brian McBride and John Harkes of the women’s game. Then in a few years, one hopes the Clint Dempseys and Michael Bradleys of the women's game can come over and find their place on some of the world’s greatest club teams.

Maura Gladys, a featured ASN columnist, works in production for KICKTV. She also runs the goalkeeping blog All You Need Is Glove.

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