Megan Rapinoe Put Retirement Off A Little Longer
2:08 PM EDT on October 16, 2023
The NWSL's structure may rob it of some of the stakes that can often be found in a European league's championship/relegation Sunday, but a tight playoff race can still make the final day of the regular season plenty interesting. This year's final set of regular-season games was set up to be particularly nerve-wracking, as various results could have led to a seemingly infinite number of playoff brackets. There was this for stakes, too: Depending on how Sunday's games unfolded, we could have woken up today knowing that we had seen Megan Rapinoe on a professional soccer field for the very last time.
The good news is that we have not seen Megan Rapinoe on a professional soccer field for the very last time; less surprising is the fact that we have none other than Rapinoe herself to thank for that. Her OL Reign side came into Sunday's game against the Chicago Red Stars with an easier task than the many others grasping for a spot in the playoffs. All the Reign had to do was beat the worst team in the league, and they would be guaranteed a place in the postseason.
The thing about soccer is that "just go win a game" is always much easier said than done, and after missing a couple of golden chances in the first half, the Reign started the final 45 minutes of the regular season still tied 0-0 with a team that had nothing to play for. The first 20 minutes of the second half are the prelude to what I like to call the "oh shit" minutes, which inevitably arrive during any scoreless game where one team is clearly better. If the more talented team doesn't score within those first 20 minutes of the half, time starts to feel extremely short, and you can begin to sense the game clock bearing down on the players and the fans. Oh shit. We don't have that much time left.
Lucky for the Reign, Rapinoe has been around long enough to understand the importance of avoiding the "oh shit" minutes, which may go some way toward explaining how she put an end to the game before the second half had even really started.
After receiving a ball at the top corner of the 18-yard box, Rapinoe looked up to see a fairly large cushion of space separating her and the sole defender standing between her and the goal. All it took was one touch and a quick shift of the hips for Rapinoe to open up a shooting angle, which she used to curl a right-footed shot just inside the far post. Not even three minutes later, Rapinoe again found herself with the ball on the left side of the box, this time a little further into enemy territory. A shot-fake on her left foot opened up the exact same shooting angle from her previous goal, and she once again shaped a perfect ball with her right foot. The shot dipped past the keeper, pinged off the far post, and went over the line.
Great players kill games, and Rapinoe's bang-bang brace was a reminder that, even at age 38 and officially headed toward retirement, she still has greatness in those legs. We didn't see any of that greatness during the USWNT's dispiriting World Cup run, and we haven't seen much of it during an NWSL season in which Rapinoe had contributed just two goals and five assists before Sunday's game. Nobody's career ever ends perfectly, but a humiliating World Cup exit mixed in with a goal-dry NWSL campaign would have been a rotten way to see Rapinoe end a brilliant career. Thankfully, she got one more moment in the sun yesterday. On Friday, she'll have a chance to create another against Angel City.