Over 15 transcendent years in professional soccer, Megan Rapinoe has won just about everything there is to win. She has lifted World Cups and cherished an Olympic gold. She has won Algarve Cups and SheBelieves Cups, CONCACAF titles and a Tournament of Nations. With Lyon, she won a French domestic double. With her longtime National Women’s Soccer League club, the Reign, she has won three NWSL Shields. From a Ballon d’Or to a Presidential Medal of Freedom, she has won all manner of individual accolades along the way.
But there is one main trophy that has eluded Rapinoe.
And in her final pro game, she’ll have a chance to win it.
Rapinoe is set to retire at the end of this 2023 NWSL season. But she and the Reign keep prolonging her last dance. On the regular season’s final day, Rapinoe scored her 50th and 51st NWSL goals to push the Reign into the playoffs. And in those playoffs, they’ve squeaked past Angel City and San Diego, the league’s newfound glamor franchises, for a berth in Saturday’s NWSL final against NJ/NY Gotham FC.
So, Rapinoe’s already-shimmering career could end with a ride off into the proverbial sunset.
Or, it could end as previous Reign seasons have, so close and yet so disappointing.
Rapinoe and her Seattle-based club have won those “Shields” because they’ve thrice been the NWSL’s best team throughout the regular season. They were dominant in 2014 and almost as good in 2015. They’ve made the playoffs without fail since 2018, and last year entered as the top seed and favorite.
And yet, postseason after postseason, they’ve come up short in games of consequence. They’ve lost two finals and four semifinals. They’ve made Rapinoe’s club career antithetical to her U.S. women’s national team tenure.
Rapinoe earned her fame on the sport’s biggest stages, with the USWNT, in moments that oozed pressure and overwhelmed countless peers. Rapinoe, instead, fed on pressure and almost seemed to treasure it. She performed when lights were bright and attention overbearing. She converted penalties in World Cup knockout rounds and delivered eloquent soliloquies with the world’s eyes on her. On smaller stages, in between major tournaments, she was never the most consistent player, and never U.S. Soccer’s Player of the Year; but she rose to grand occasions when nobody else could.
Her club, on the other hand, has done the opposite.
The Reign have played some brilliant soccer over the years, and convened absurd collections of talent. Rapinoe has been just one piece of their rock-solid core, which also includes Jess Fishlock and Lauren Barnes, plus head coach Laura Harvey. Rapinoe has, at times, seemed to deprioritize the NWSL to focus on the national team or off-field endeavors; the Reign have nonetheless thrived and become one of the league’s most consistent teams.
But it was the playoffs, in increasingly big moments, where they invariably stumbled.
Veronica Latsko’s late header in the wild-card round, to beat Angel City 1-0, bucked the trend. Latsko scored again Sunday, with a fluky cross that looped over San Diego Wave goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan and nestled into the far side netting.
And for 90 minutes, with Emily Sonnett patrolling midfield, the Reign stifled this year’s Shield winners, San Diego.
So they are on to the final, Rapinoe’s third and last final, to meet Gotham, a potential worst-to-first success story. There, in San Diego on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, CBS), two remarkably similar narratives will clash. Gotham’s Ali Krieger, Rapinoe’s longtime friend and USWNT teammate, is also retiring at season’s end. She has also lifted many trophies but never the NWSL’s crown jewel.
One of two legends will hang up their boots as most players do, in crushing defeat. The other’s career will end with a fitting triumph.
As Reign midfielder Rose Lavelle said late Sunday night: “It seems a bit poetic.”