Beats & Rhymes FC

Megan Rapinoe interview: US midfield gem glistens in the spotlight

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At the very top of the women’s game today there are few who carry quite so much esteem in all they do as the US Women’s National Team midfielder Megan Rapinoe, so it is hard to believe that the 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year nominee and Olympic Gold medallist was flustered in one situation in front of her teammates!

‘Pinoe’ has become one of the most recognisable and revered names in her sport thanks to her terrific on-pitch ability mixed with an inimitable style and persona that is pretty impossible not to like. The current Olympique Lyonnais player may stand out for her bright blonde hairstyle and striking footballing talent but there really is so much more to her than that and she is one of the exemplary role models in the game.

The 27-year-old was magnificent as the US won Olympic Gold in last summer’s London Olympics and she just seems to have a way about her that endears her to people. Despite the sparkling confidence Megan always manages to exude, her twin sister Rachael (who is 11 minutes older than her) once told of how they both had a lot of shyness growing up.

There is a very strong love for music in Megan’s life which she shows often and she describes how her hugely successful former national team coach Pia Sundhage called upon her to give her teammates a demonstration of her skills. Although nobody who is aware of Pinoe could ever say she was introverted, perhaps there was a little bit of that shy teenager from Redding, California making a cameo in this moment. I am sure though that the inhibitions faded a little bit at least once she struck those chords on the guitar and came in with the opening line of ‘let’s take the train to anywhere’ on the vocals.

“Yes I have had to sing, I play the guitar as well so Pia made me. I was terribly red and sweating but I sang a Missy Higgins song, ‘Don’t Ever’ was the name I think.’’

In the days before she became so widely known, Pinoe grew up in Palo Cedro, California before moving to nearby Redding in her early teens, and her mother still works at Jack’s Grill in the area where much like her daughter she is a celebrity to the locals! Megan grew up as one of five siblings and they can take a portion of the credit for strengthening her connection to music.

“When I was growing up I had older siblings with good taste in music so Michael Jackson, Madonna and Nirvana were all in the mix. In college I started to discover more singer/writer types and more folky music.
“I would say in general I started to get more explorative with music.’’

Megan has always made the point that she is a ‘we’ with her twin sister Rachael as opposed to a ‘me’ by herself. They have always been different yet inseparable at the same time and Rachael has also made her way in the sport. The Rapinoe twins went to the University of Portland together but prior to this Megan was a young music fan with her very first album of her own to listen to. Her mother Denise used to blow a whistle when it was time for the twins to come inside from playing and she certainly called time on Megan’s choice of record on this occasion!

“The first record I had and still love to this day was Alanis Morissette ‘Jagged Little Pill’. My Mom upon opening the CD and looking at the lyrics immediately returned it though.’’

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Pinoe is someone who goes into a different world with music and puts her personality into it just as she does with soccer. She was made to learn the guitar as a 12-year-old and despite wanting to quit she eventually came back to it some years later and has been playing ever since. Her celebrations on the field are inventive to say the least and one that stood out came when she scored in the 2011 World Cup against Colombia as she sang Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born In The USA’ into the microphone by the side of the pitch. ‘The Boss’ is one of the artists she names when she discusses those she has seen perform live.

“Yes I have been to a few gigs. I’ve seen Dar Williams, Ben Harper, Dave Matthews (Band), Missy Higgins, Tegan and Sara, Bruce Springsteen, Kings Of Leon, The Killers, M83.
“The best one I’ve been to was Dave Matthews. It was my first concert, young and fresh, it just blew my mind.’’

Megan’s midfield national team colleagues Carli Lloyd and Shannon Boxx have talked on this site about how Lauren Cheney will preside over the locker room playlist and the new FC Kansas City player gets the approval of Pinoe too.

“Yes Cheney is on the iPod during pre-game. She’s got all the new beats, but she is always welcome to suggestions which I toss in from time to time.
“It’s a massive job I think, and she is good! Kelley O’Hara has good taste in music, (she’s) always coming out with new material.
“Jill Loyden as well has some good stuff. As far as the worst, I wouldn’t know, I try not to seek out the bad stuff!’’

Pinoe tends to learn the start of songs when she plays guitar as opposed to the full duration of them and she gave me a greater insight into the specific artists that she would place amongst her favourites.

“This is a difficult question to answer, so many choices. Some of my favourite vocals are Florence Welch, Amos Lee, Jack White, Missy Higgins, Birdy, Bon Iver.
“I tend to like slower acoustic singer/songwriter-type stuff. Florence does a song with A$AP Rocky called ‘Come Apart’, which I love.
“Dar Williams lays claim to my favourite song though – ‘After All’.’’

Megan’s relationship with her twin Rachael has already been alluded to but there was one childhood moment Megan recalls when she was following Rachael so closely that she turned around and they collided – the perfect indicator of their bond perhaps. There is also a link to this in the musicians that Megan once met, a Canadian act who produced the song ‘Walking With A Ghost’, which is my personal favourite of theirs.

“The only ones I’ve had the opportunity to meet were Tegan and Sara. Lovely girls and we’ve the twin thing in common.’’

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Among the best moments that Pinoe has enjoyed in national team colours came two years ago. Deep into injury-time after the additional 30 minutes of extra-time had passed in the 2011 World Cup quarter-final between the US and Brazil, she provided a moment of class to help find the equaliser. With the seconds ebbing away in Dresden she received the ball just inside the Brazilian half from Carli Lloyd and ran on before hanging up a superb left-footed delivery for Abby Wambach to head home. It was an incredible moment and Pinoe went on to score in the shootout as the US booked their place in the semi-final.

Although Pia Sundhage’s team would lose out on penalties in the final to Japan they would make it three Olympic Golds in a row at London 2012. In the tournament she scored in another 3-0 win over Colombia, this time in Glasgow, and held up a message to the cameras wishing injured teammate Ali Krieger a happy birthday. By the time the team had secured Gold after Carli Lloyd’s double in the final against Japan at Wembley, Pinoe had scored three goals and set up four. This included one direct from a corner in the 4-3 win over Canada in the semi-final, a game in which she also scored with a right-footed effort whipped into the net off the post at Old Trafford’s Stretford End just like David Beckham used to do in that very stadium. It was a game that ended with Alex Morgan’s 123rd-minute winner and one that I watched and wondered how anyone could dismiss the quality that exists in the women’s game if they had seen this. It was a special summer for Pinoe and she told me the track that she will always associate with their British Olympic adventure.

“Our song in London was ‘Some Nights’ by Fun. It still brings such a massive smile to my face when I hear it.’’

An entertainer with antics that manage to warm the heart, Megan believes that greater focus at grass roots level is one of the necessary steps forward for the game. I mentioned to her what I saw during the Olympics from an English viewpoint in terms of how well received the women’s game was and the barriers that still exist and she gave her own view on some of the steps forward in England and further afield.

“The Olympics was amazing and surprising to be honest with what I’ve heard about women’s football in the UK. It is getting better, I think with the Champions League and more foreigners in the league that is spreading the women’s game and increasing the popularity so much.
“I think the support not only from fans but also financial support is getting better.’’

A player who believes that celebrations are the whole point of playing the game, Pinoe is currently in the midst of her latest chapter, having joined the women’s footballing giant that is Lyon. She moved to France at the same time as Japanese attacker Shinobu Ohno at the beginning of this year and is with Patrice Lair’s team on a six-month deal. Lyon have been an unstoppable force in recent times with their domestic results and have also won the 2011 and 2012 Champions League trophies.

The team take on Swedish side Malmö in the quarter-final of European women’s soccer’s premier competition in the first leg on March 20th, with the final taking place at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge on May 23rd. The men’s final will be held at Wembley two days later and Megan will be hoping that she can rekindle the magic of last year’s Olympics in the capital before she becomes part of the NWSL with Seattle Reign. I really feel that she has a way of making you feel good by the things that she does because of her dry and witty yet incredibly warm personality and she has been trying to get that across in the burgeoning stages of a story set in the Rhône-Alpes for the Californian.

“So far my time here in Lyon is excellent. I feel I am settling into the team well and into the locker room with the girls.
“As far as the city, I am such a tourist! I have been trying to explore around as much as I can.
“The food here is so good as well, it’s hard to go wrong in this city. I’ve taken in an opera as well which was brilliant.
“The hardest part is the language barrier of course. You don’t feel like you have your full personality, but I am learning!’’

 

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It takes much more than merely appreciating the way she plays to get the whole picture with Pinoe. She is a wholly intriguing character and made headlines when she came out in the lead-up to the Olympics, being presented with the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center’s Board of Directors Award as a result. Such a significant step was seen as being worthy of recognition due to her high-profile position and although she was already open about her sexuality to those who knew her she felt it was right to make it widely known too. On and off the pitch she is the full package and is rightly synonymous with the positive image we have now of women’s soccer.

The former Chicago Red Stars, Philadelphia Independence and magicJack performer subscribes to the way of thinking that you should give fans their money’s worth and she has shared locker rooms with many players who have also lived up to this. For anyone who is reading the site for the first time I like to end the interviews by asking the player to choose a team of five players (including themselves) made up of the best they have worked with in their career so far.

It is never an easy question to answer because of the many teammates that the players have often played alongside and this is especially the case with Pinoe when you think of not only the immense quality of the US team but also the bond that they share in the squad. Here is the team she chose when I asked her and we even have a Brazilian and a Canadian in this American star’s line-up – an honour indeed!

“Okay this is tough! My top 5-a-side team: Hope Solo (in goal), Becky Sauerbrunn (defence), Formiga (midfield) and Christine Sinclair (striker).’’

Follow me on Twitter: @chris_brookes

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