Rapi­noe be­ing her­self at Cup

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Sports - BY ANNE M. PETER­SON

With a col­or­ful vo­cab­u­lary and man­ner to match her pink­ish-pur­ple hair, Me­gan Rapi­noe stands out sim­ply by be­ing Me­gan Rapi­noe.

She cel­e­brated her two goals in the quar­ter­fi­nal match against France at the Women’s World Cup by rais­ing both arms in vic­tory, rem­i­nis­cent of Rus­sell Crowe in “Gla­di­a­tor.” Are you not en­ter­tained? She spawned many memes in the process.

“She’s just a big per­son­al­ity both on and off the pitch,” coach Jill El­lis said. “And I think she hon­estly thrives in these mo­ments.”

In se­cur­ing the 2-1 vic­tory that knocked the hosts out of the tour­na­ment, the United States now moves on to a semi­fi­nal match against Eng­land on Tues­day in Lyon. If they can get past the Lionesses, the Amer­i­cans will get a shot at their sec­ond straight World Cup ti­tle and fourth over­all in a July 7 fi­nal.

From a high-pro­file bat­tle with U.S. Soc­cer over equal pay back home, to the ex­u­ber­ant cel­e­bra­tion of every goal in the 13-0 tour­na­ment opener against Thai­land, the U.S. team is un­apolo­get­i­cally brash and con­fi­dent.

If any­one em­bod­ies the U.S. ethos, it’s Rapi­noe.

She has five goals in this World Cup, ty­ing her with team­mate Alex Mor­gan, Eng­land’s Ellen White and Aus­tralia’s Sam Kerr for the tour­na­ment lead. She is the first player to score two goals in back-to-back games since Brazil’s Marta in 2007: Rapi­noe also scored twice in a 2-1 vic­tory over Spain to open the round of 16.

And some­times she gets just as much at­ten­tion for what she does away from the game.

Rapi­noe was at the cen­ter of a con­tro­versy in the days lead­ing up to what was called Le Grand Match when video sur­faced of her say­ing she wouldn’t visit the White House if the team won the World Cup – and drop­ping in an ex­ple­tive for em­pha­sis.

While the in­ter­view was from Jan­uary, it at­tracted Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s at­ten­tion and he tweeted: “Me­gan should never dis­re­spect our Coun­try, the White House, or our Flag, es­pe­cially since so much has been done for her & the team.” Trump added that he would in­vite the team to Wash­ing­ton, win or lose.

Rapi­noe said she stood by the

state­ment, with the ex­cep­tion of her coarse lan­guage. Then she went out and scored five min­utes into the game against France.

“You can hear it in her com­ments and how she presents her­self. She’s a very ex­pe­ri­enced, elo­quent per­son. I would just kind of point to the per­for­mance tonight and I’d say if any­thing this stuff just bounces off her, I think it even pushes her for­ward,” El­lis said af­ter­ward.

Rapi­noe has al­ways been un­afraid to speak her mind. She came out as gay in 2012 and is cur­rently in a re­la­tion­ship with WNBA star Sue Bird. Rapi­noe even joked about it fol­low­ing Fri­day night’s vic­tory, when asked if it had more mean­ing be­cause this is Pride Month.

“You can’t win a cham­pi­onship with­out gays on your team, it’s pretty much never been done be­fore, ever,” she said. “Sci­ence right there.”

Rapi­noe has been par­tic­u­larly vo­cal about equitable pay and the treat­ment of fe­male ath­letes, while also crit­i­cal of FIFA for not in­vest­ing more in the women’s game.

She has pointed to the dis­par­ity in the prize money for the men’s and women’s World Cups. France, the men’s win­ner in Rus­sia, was awarded $38 mil­lion, while the win­ner of the women’s tour­na­ment will take home just $4 mil­lion.

Two years ago, Rapi­noe was in the news for kneel­ing dur­ing the na­tional an­them. She said it was an act of sol­i­dar­ity with Colin Kaeper­nick, the for­mer San Fran­cisco 49ers quar­ter­back who knelt dur­ing the an­them to call at­ten­tion to racial in­equal­ity.

U.S. Soc­cer re­sponded by adopt­ing a rule that says play­ers must stand for anthems. She said she’d abide by it, but in France she has not sung the an­them or put her hand on her heart while it plays be­fore each game.

Oh, and she can play, too.

Rapi­noe won an NCAA ti­tle with the Uni­ver­sity of Port­land in 2005 and made her se­nior na­tional team de­but the next year. She played in all six U.S. games at the 2011 World Cup in Ger­many, mem­o­rably pick­ing up a mi­cro­phone af­ter a goal and singing Bruce Spring­steen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”

One of her big­gest mo­ments as a player came in that tour­na­ment, when her per­fect cross to Abby Wam­bach led to the ty­ing goal in the quar­ter­fi­nals against Brazil. The Amer­i­cans ad­vanced on penal­ties.

She also has an Olympic gold medal from the 2012 Lon­don Games, where she scored di­rectly from a cor­ner kick in the semi­fi­nals against Canada. She is the only player – male or fe­male – to have such a goal in Olympic com­pe­ti­tion.

While France has seem­ingly ce­mented her legacy both on and off the field, she in­sisted that any drama she en­coun­tered didn’t fuel her.

“I don’t re­ally get en­er­gized by haters, or all that,” she said. “I feel like there are so many more peo­ple that love me, so I’m like, ‘Yay! Peo­ple love me! This is great!’ I’m a lit­tle more en­er­gized by that.”

FRAN­CISCO SECO AP

The United States’ Me­gan Rapi­noe cel­e­brates af­ter scor­ing her side’s sec­ond goal Fri­day.

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