Megan Rapinoe hits the full criteria of an elite performer, with the U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder also making an increasing impact beyond her sport. The FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year nominee, though, remembers one occasion when the spotlight was so strong that even she felt like running for cover.
From mentality to skill level, Megan Rapinoe seems to run the full gamut of a top-level player. The 27-year-old’s in-game precision comes with an inimitable style and persona, with the current Olympique Lyonnais midfielder a subscriber to the notion that the field is every bit the stage.
A key part of the United States’ golden run at last summer’s London Olympics, ‘Pinoe’ also steps into the shoes of a songstress from time to time (it’s unconfirmed whose shoes they are). Ordinarily a role she relishes, one such occasion didn’t feel like such a treat, as she recalls.
“Yes, I have had to sing (in front of teammates); I play the guitar as well, so (former U.S. coach) Pia (Sundhage) made me. I was terribly red and sweating, but I sang a Missy Higgins song; ‘Don’t Ever’ was the name, I think.”
The former Chicago Red Star grew up in Palo Cedro, California before moving to nearby Redding in her early teens, and her mother, Denise, still works at Jack’s Grill in the area; much like her daughter, she is something of a local celebrity. One of five siblings, Megan believes they can take a portion of the credit for 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.”
Alongside twin sister Rachael (some 11 seconds older), her collegiate career took her to the University of Portland. Back before their years as co-Pilots, their mother would blow a whistle when it was time for the twins to come in from playing outside – not unlike the action she took one day in the ‘90s, upon discovering the album Megan had got her hands on.
“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.”
Megan had been made to learn the guitar as a 12-year-old, and despite wanting to quit, would find her way back to it some years later. The Californian’s goal celebration in the 2011 World Cup against Colombia had an East Coast edge instead, as she dropped a dose of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born In The USA’ into the microphone by the side of the field.
‘The Boss’ is among the artists she has seen perform live.
“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.”
Her midfield counterparts on the national team, Carli Lloyd and Shannon Boxx, have spoken on this site about Lauren Cheney’s locker-room playlist, and the new FC Kansas City player wins 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, 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!”
Tending to focus on the start of songs when she plays guitar, rather than the full duration, she shares some of the specific artists that earn a spot 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.’ The only ones I’ve had the opportunity to meet were Tegan and Sara; lovely girls and we’ve the twin thing in common.”
Among the most seismic of moments she has enjoyed in national-team colours came two years ago. With extra-time so nearly over, and the U.S. trailing Brazil 2-1 in their World Cup quarter-final in Dresden, she would receive the ball just inside the Brazilian half from Carli Lloyd, running on before hanging up a superb left-footed delivery for Abby Wambach to head home.
She would score in the shootout, as they booked their place in the semi-final, and although Pia Sundhage’s team agonisingly lost the final to Japan by that method, a third Olympic gold medal in succession was waiting at London 2012. Scoring in another 3-0 win over Colombia, this time in Glasgow, Megan held up a message to the cameras wishing injured teammate Ali Krieger a happy birthday.
By the time of their victory over Japan at Wembley in the final, the number 15 had scored three and set up four overall. One came direct from a corner in the 4-3 win over Canada in the semi-final, a game in which she also whipped one in off the post at Old Trafford’s famous Stretford End.
A game that ended with the unforgettable drama of Alex Morgan’s 123rd-minute winner, it was a standout day in another special summer for the team. Megan shares the track that acts as an instant reminder.
“Our song in London was ‘Some Nights’ by Fun; it still brings such a massive smile to my face when I hear it.”
The tournament had brought showpiece moments for the women’s game, not just in the UK but overall.
“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.”
Europe is also where she can be found at present, having joined leading force Lyon at the beginning of this year. Moving to France at the same time as Japanese attacker Shinobu Ohno, she is with Patrice Lair’s team on a six-month deal.
“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!”
Recently given the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center’s Board of Directors Award, she would begin her acceptance speech with the winning line: “Excuse my voice; I identify as a lesbian but apparently my voice is going through an identity crisis. Thinks it’s Justin Bieber for the night…”
Due to join up with Seattle Reign in the newly-formed National Women’s Soccer League, the former Philadelphia Independence and magicJack player aims to carry on combining the pursuit of winning with entertainment and colour. We end here with the regular final question, in which the interviewee is asked for suggestions of teammates from their career, to go alongside them in a fantasy 5-a-side line-up.
“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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