After tumultuous year, Megan Rapinoe is finding a groove
After an “everything” year, Megan Rapinoe appears to be enjoying just focusing on soccer.
Over the past year she’s recovered from ACL surgery, played in the Olympics, dealt with the backlash over her demonstrative support of Colin Kaepernick, and then helped the national team negotiate a new contract with U.S. Soccer.
Now she gets to dedicate herself to just playing.
She has a pair of goals with the Seattle Reign through the first four games of the National Women’s Soccer League season. She’s also ranked third in the league for shots with 15, and second with nine shots on goal.
“My sister told me maybe my Saturn was returning or something, that that’s why everything got wild,” she joked. “I definitely did (reflect) — for the great things that happened last year, obviously making it back from an ACL and being able to participate in the Olympics is incredible. And different lows in different mediums — I think it was sort of an everything year for me in a lot of different ways.”
Following the U.S. national team’s victory in the 2015 World Cup, the 31-year-old midfielder tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee during a training session that December and required surgery.
At the time, it looked as though she might miss out on the 2016 Olympic Games. But she made enough progress that she was named to U.S. coach Jill Ellis’ roster.
She arrived in Brazil knowing she’d have a limited role, but started in the third and final group-stage match. The three-time defending gold medal U.S. team was surprisingly ousted from the games in the quarterfinals by Sweden and went home without medaling.
When Rapinoe returned she resumed play with the Reign. But she stirred controversy by kneeling during the national anthem, which she later said was an act of solidarity with Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who knelt during the anthem to call attention to racial inequality.
The owner of the Washington Spirit subsequently had the anthem played before the players took the field for a match in Maryland. Spirit owner Bill Lynch also released a statement that accused Rapinoe of “hijacking” the match to draw attention to a personal cause.
Rapinoe also knelt during the anthem before two national team matches. Then earlier this year, the U.S. Soccer Federation adopted a new rule that says players must stand for anthems. Rapinoe issued a statement saying she’d abide by it.
She said that the experience taught her a lot about her convictions.
“I think it really only solidifies who I am as a person and the things that I stand up for,” she said. “Oftentimes you stand up for things and people clap, and sometimes you do and they don’t. I think it only strengthened my resolve and the things I care about.”
Rapinoe’s offseason was longer than usual because she was not called up to play in the SheBelieves Cup with the national team. Ellis wanted to look at new players and Rapinoe still had work to do to get in game shape.
“It rejuvenated me a little bit. The cycle of a World Cup and an Olympics is just difficult. So much travel, you’re around the team so much, there’s so many games and pressure and all of it,” she said. “Because I wasn’t getting called in or I wasn’t being played in the games, I was able to do the things that I needed.”
Training camp with the Reign allowed her to work her way back.
“It’s interesting,” coach Laura Harvey said. “Over the four and a bit seasons we’ve had Pinoe, she hasn’t played that many games for us for different reasons — World Cups, injuries, different things. So a big aim this year is to try to keep her healthy all season. She’s obviously come in this year on the back of a really tough 2016, but she needs games.”
Rapinoe proclaimed she’s fitter and stronger that she’s ever been. Now she just needs to get game experience, put in her full 90 minutes and get her “body back into that rhythm of playing all the time.”
“I feel like this year, at least the first four games, has been good for me,” she said. “I’m happy with the way I’m playing and the way I’m contributing to the team, and I feel like it’s only going to get better.”