In what will be a weekend filled with tearful farewells, Megan Rapinoe will play her final minutes in a U.S. jersey after a legendary career that featured two World Cup titles, 202 appearances, 63 goals and 73 assists.
But while the U.S. women’s national team has sent many American soccer stars riding into the sunset, few have had as big of an impact off the field as they had on it—and Rapinoe will leave her international career as a legend in both regards.
To commemorate her career accomplishments, here are just a few of the lasting moments from Rapinoe’s stellar career for club and country.
2019 Ballon d’Or Féminin
In 2019, the USWNT star won the Ballon d’Or along with Lionel Messi as Rapinoe became the second recipient of the newly created Ballon d’Or Féminin award. The December ceremony commemorated a legendary year for Rapinoe when she had already won the World Cup, earned co–Golden Boot honors and was named the best player at the tournament.
No other American has won the Ballon d’Or and no other women’s player has come near the 230 points she received in the voting process. Her acceptance speech was short and sweet, and directed at her teammates for their support: “You allow me to be who I am on the field and the person I am off of it. There is not enough ‘thank-yous’ in the world for all that you guys do for me.” Less than a week later, Rapinoe was named SI’s Sportsperson of the Year, capping off an incredible year.
2015 World Cup triumph
After the disappointment in the 2011 World Cup final, Rapinoe and the USWNT came back with a vengeance in ’15. In the opening match against Australia, Rapinoe scored twice, recording her only goals of the tournament. It was an astonishing run for the U.S., which conceded only one goal in the entire tournament until the final. In that game, the U.S. got its revenge on Japan in a 5–2 win in a rematch of the previous World Cup final (although it had already defeated Japan in the ’12 Olympic final).
Within the first 16 minutes, Carli Lloyd had already recorded a hat trick with Rapinoe assisting on the first goal. But 2015 was all about the U.S. reestablishing its dominance in the first of back-to-back world titles. For her outstanding performance, Rapinoe was named in the team of the tournament. And for good measure, back home in Northern California, a local farm celebrated her triumph by turning an image of her face into a corn maze.
2012 Olympic gold
At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Rapinoe was one of the best players in the tournament, recording three goals and four assists on the way to a gold medal. What stands out most is a two-goal performance in a rousing semifinal against Canada, where she matched Christine Sinclair twice to equalize for the U.S. before an extra-time win.
But what especially stands out is the manner of her first goal, where she scored directly from the corner kick to become the first player to score an Olimpico (yup, that’s right) at the Olympics. Rapinoe then went on to assist on one of Lloyd’s goals in a 2–1 win over Japan in the final at Wembley Stadium.
2019 World Cup win and Golden Ball honors
Every great has the show-stealing, world-is-watching mega-performance that turns them into a legend. For Rapinoe, that was the 2019 World Cup in France. Coming off a lackluster club season with the Reign, Rapinoe saved her best for the big stage, earning the Golden Boot with six goals and three assists along with winning player of the tournament for leading the USWNT to its second straight World Cup title. All while engaging in a war of words with then President Donald Trump.
After scoring once in a tournament-opening 13–0 rout of Thailand, Rapinoe scored five goals in the knockout stage, including two against Spain in the round of 16 and two in the quarterfinals against host France. After missing the semifinal, she then scored the opener against the Netherlands in the final. But the 2019 World Cup is also where she broke out her iconic celebratory pose that landed her on the cover of Sports Illustrated—an arms-to-the-sky, Emmy-trophy that looked like a mix of Gladiator’s “Are you not entertained?” scene and the aftermath of a magician completing a mind-blowing trick before yelling “Ta-da!”
2006 USWNT debut and first goal
As a freshman at the University of Portland in 2005, Rapinoe recorded 15 goals and 13 assists en route to an undefeated season, an NCAA championship and All-American honors. By the time she started her sophomore year, Rapinoe had already made her USWNT debut. Just after her 21st birthday, Rapinoe was called up to the U.S. and made her debut in a friendly against Ireland just one year before the upcoming World Cup. Little did we know back then she would end up breaking into the all-time USWNT top 10 in both goals and assists.
Then, in October 2006, Rapinoe scored her first goals for the U.S., scoring twice in a 10–0 friendly win against Chinese Taipei. The first of what would end up being a 63-goal career was a tap-in on a low cross through the box, while the second required some fancier footwork to round the keeper and glance a shot off the post. But just days later, Rapinoe would tear her ACL for the first of three times in her career. She wouldn’t return to the USWNT until ’09.
2023 World Cup missed penalty vs. Sweden
Not all memorable moments ended positively, but Rapinoe took one of her career lows in stride. After a lackadaisical group-stage performance at the 2023 World Cup, the U.S. (barely) advanced to the knockout stage, where it faced a tough matchup against Sweden. After coming on as an extra-time substitute in a goalless deadlock, Rapinoe was tapped to take a penalty kick during the shootout. With the chance to give the U.S. a two-shot advantage, Rapinoe’s shot soared over the crossbar for her first missed penalty in nearly five years.
On her way back to midfield, Rapinoe laughed off her misfortune in what would end up being her last kick at the World Cup after the U.S. failed to make the semifinal for the first time. But her lighthearted, almost unfathomable reaction endeared her to even more supporters: “I mean this is like a sick joke,” Rapinoe told Fox. “For me personally, this is dark comedy that I missed a penalty. That’s why I had that smile on my face. I’m like, 'You've got to be f---ing kidding me.’ I’m going to miss a penalty? I mean, honestly, I can’t remember the last time I missed.”
Equal pay lawsuit and settlement
Just three months before the 2019 World Cup, members of the defending champion USWNT filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer seeking improved working conditions and wages on par with the U.S. men’s team. Said Rapinoe: “I don’t know if there was a tipping point, but the feeling was that this was the next best step for us to put us in the best possible position to continue to fight for what we believe is right and what the law recognizes. And to try to achieve equality under the law, equal working conditions, equal working pay.”
With Rapinoe at the forefront, the USWNT leveraged its popular social media presence and the 2019 World Cup win to gain widespread public support, encouraging similar movements around the world while becoming the vanguard in the movement for equality in women’s sports. Then, in ’22, U.S. Soccer announced a landmark settlement, pledging to equal pay within the federation in the following collective bargaining agreements while dishing out $24 million in backpay. After claiming its players were paid just 40% of what the men’s players earned, it was a watershed moment for the USWNT. The lengthy legal battle damaged the reputation of U.S. Soccer and ensured that the USWNT will go down in history not only as champions but also as trailblazers.
Taking a knee
While winning two World Cups and a Ballon d’Or are career-defining accomplishments for any player, one of Rapinoe’s biggest moments came before the opening whistle. On Sept. 4, 2016, before the Reign’s match against the Chicago Red Stars, Rapinoe took a knee on the sideline during the national anthem to show solidarity with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was protesting racial injustice and inequality with his demonstration before NFL games. Less than two weeks later with the USWNT, Rapinoe knelt on the sideline before a U.S. friendly against Thailand.
The gesture caused a polarizing debate that crossed over from sports and into politics. While U.S. Soccer indirectly decried the protest by saying it expected all personnel to stand for the national anthem, Rapinoe became a target of the far right in American politics, including Trump. But her demonstrations continued with Rapinoe saying, “This is how I can use my voice going forward, and this is how I can be an ally in this space.”
2011 WWC quarterfinal cross to Wambach
Abby Wambach’s last-second goal in the 2011 World Cup quarterfinal against Brazil is considered one of the biggest goals in U.S. Soccer (and even Women’s World Cup) history, and it wouldn’t have been possible without a picture-perfect cross from Rapinoe. Trailing 2–1 in extra time and facing its earliest World Cup exit, the USWNT had one last chance to push the game to penalty kicks, and that’s exactly what it did.
Running down the left wing, Rapinoe spotted Wambach making a far-post run and sent a curling cross that Wambach headed into the net for the equalizer. The goal set off a raucous celebration before the U.S. went on to win in a penalty-kick shootout, with Rapinoe and Wambach converting their penalties. The goal is still the latest goal to be scored in a Women’s World Cup match, but culturally, it became a viral moment (and the 2011 ESPY Award for Best Play of the Year) that galvanized American support behind the USWNT after a decade of falling short on the biggest stage. The U.S. would go on to lose to Japan in the final, but it was the beginning of something special.
2013 Champions League debut for Lyon
Rapinoe’s short stint at Olympique Lyonnais often goes under the radar, but it’s actually the only place she’s ever won a league title. After arriving at Lyon in January 2013, Rapinoe made an immediate impact at women’s soccer’s biggest club, which had already won six straight French league trophies and back-to-back Champions League titles. In her first half-season with Lyon, Rapinoe scored four goals in 11 appearances. But more important, it was her performance on the biggest stage that caught everyone’s attention.
In her first Champions League match, a quarterfinal first-leg tie with Malmö, Rapinoe wasted no time by scoring in her debut. The winger would go on to record two goals and an assist in the knockout stage while becoming the fifth American (man or woman) to play in a Champions League final. However, Lyon’s Champions League streak would come to an end at the hands of Wolfsburg, while Rapinoe would last only another half-season before returning early to Seattle in January 2014.