Benefield: Megan Rapinoe's epic performance a convincing statement
It seems only right that it was veteran midfielder Megan Rapinoe, standing in the corner of Parc des Princes stadium with the game not even five minutes old, arms outstretched and with an almost comical look of serenity on her face.
Having just scored one of the biggest goals of her storied career, her body language seemed to say, “Let’s hear it.” Let’s hear the cheers, the boos, the whistles, the roars. Bring it. Rapinoe’s expression said: “I can weather the storm and I can still throw daggers on the field. It’s what I do.”
Rapinoe, as everyone in the western world surely knows, drew headlines this week when comments she made back in January about not wanting to visit Donald Trump’s White House should the U.S. win the World Cup were released. As she does, she addressed the issue in front of the microphone at a press conference Thursday and then addressed it on the field Friday.
The outspoken, lavender-coiffed midfielder netted goals in the fifth and 65th minutes to lead the United States to a 2-1 win and a date with England in the semifinals Tuesday.
It was a dazzling performance that was perhaps meant to quiet to her vociferous critics, including the president, and yet surely won’t. Rapinoe has that kind of personality. She questions, she talks, she presses.
But first, and foremost, she plays.
Rapinoe’s heroics came in the most anticipated game of the tournament. But for soccer watchers, some of this has to feel a little familiar — watching the Redding-reared midfielder lift her team out of a tight, quarterfinal bind.
You might remember. It was 2011 and the U.S. was moments away from being ousted by the feisty Brazilians in the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup in Germany. That is, until in the closing seconds of extra time a streaking, full-stride Rapinoe sent a cross from very nearly half-field onto the noggin of the most lethal header in the history of the game: Abby Wambach.
It was the most exciting soccer game I have ever watched. And Rapinoe put her stamp all over it.
And then the U.S. lost. Not that game, they beat Brazil in penalties to advance to the semifinal where they dispatched France. But in the finals — the place American soccer fans, perhaps spoiled by the extraordinary success of the women’s national team, always expect our squad to be — the U.S. lost to Japan. For a team ranked number one in the world, second place seemed like a dismal failure.
So Rapinoe’s heroics, Wambach’s lethal noggin — for naught, really.
The same holds true today. The United States is the top-ranked team on the planet, they have an embarrassment of riches on their roster and they just dispatched a super-talented squad from the host country to earn a spot in the semifinal game thanks, yet again, to Rapinoe’s big play in big moments.
But just like in 2011, they aren’t there yet. The win over France was a huge step not only because Les Bleues is a loaded team graced with the unquantifiable benefit of playing on home soil, but because France presented the U.S. squad with challenges they had not yet seen in this tournament.