PARIS (AP) — 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.
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.”
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