Megan Rapinoe announces she'll retire at end of NWSL season

Megan Rapinoe, the iconic face of the U.S. women's national team, announced Saturday that she will retire at the end of the 2023 National Women's Soccer League season, and that the 2023 Women's World Cup will be her last.

Rapinoe made the announcement at a news conference in San Jose, one day before she and the USWNT will depart for that World Cup, which will be Rapinoe's fourth.

She'll leave the game this fall having won at least two World Cups, one Olympic gold, and millions of fans along the way.

And she'll leave with "a really deep sense of peace, and gratitude, and excitement," she said.

"I could've just never imagined where this beautiful game would've taken me," Rapinoe added, with emotion tickling her voice.

Rapinoe said she'd made the decision over the past 12 months, but had been "thinking about this for a long time," ever since 2019, when she rose to unprecedented fame while leading the U.S. to its fourth Women's World Cup title. All the while, she helped lead the USWNT's fight for equal pay, sparred with then-President Donald Trump, and became a renowned social justice advocate.

In the aftermath of that World Cup, countless opportunities came her way. "There's so many opportunities that I have, and so much that I'm really passionate about, sometimes I get frustrated that I can't do both [soccer and everything else]," she told Yahoo Sports last year.

She also battled niggling injuries, and considered retirement last year. But she felt like she had more to give to soccer, so she stayed in the game, and returned to the USWNT.

FILE - In this July 7, 2019 file photo, United States' Megan Rapinoe celebrates after scoring the opening goal from the penalty spot during the Women's World Cup final soccer match against The Netherlands at the Stade de Lyon in Decines, outside Lyon, France. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)
USWNT and NWSL star Megan Rapinoe announced Saturday she will retire at the end of the season. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)

Nobody, though, expected that Rapinoe, now 38 years old, would continue onto a fifth World Cup in 2027. She'd been asked "like a thousand times" — including by Yahoo Sports last month — whether this World Cup would be her last, and each time, she'd decline to say. But that "felt weird," she admitted Saturday.

"Like, obviously I'm not gonna be playing the next one, my God," she said with a smile. "That would be a whole scene."

She said she's excited to play a final half-season, and excited for retirement, but of course, she'll miss plenty. When asked what she'll remember most from her 15-year career, she highlighted "all the moments that are only team — in the locker room, in the mediation rooms, in the bus. In the banquet rooms in hotels. The fun moments, the really tough moments. All those little things that nobody gets to see. ...

"That's something that can never be replicated," she continued. "There's certain things in the game that I think you just have to mourn when you walk away. I'm never gonna have a moment in that Paris stadium [at the 2019 World Cup]. ... I'm never gonna have the locker room moments again, watching my teammates come back from being pregnant, or watching people struggle and be in the depths of s***, watching myself be in the depths of stuff, and being able to come out of it in so many ways.

"I think it's all those moments. The biggest ones that we know are memorialized on YouTube, and those can forever be brought up. But all the little moments that we're not able to share with everyone I think is the most special for all of us."

Rapinoe's club team, the OL Reign, said in a corresponding Saturday statement that it "will commemorate Rapinoe's illustrious career" at its final regular-season home game on Oct. 6. The match will be dubbed "Forever Reign: A Celebration of Megan Rapinoe."

The national team will also likely announce details of a celebratory match in Rapinoe's honor after the World Cup.

Rapinoe said the timing of the announcement, months in advance, was in part inspired by her fiancée, Sue Bird, whose final WNBA season turned into a farewell tour across the league.

"I just wanna be able to soak in every moment, and share it with teammates and friends and family, and share it with the rest of the world," Rapinoe said. "I understand that it's incredibly rare for athletes of any stature to be able to go out in their own way, on their own terms, at the time that they want, in a way that feels really peaceful and settled for them. So I feel very grateful that I'm here, and I have the trust of this team, and that my body has held up this long to be able to do this."

She also said she wanted to "kind of get it out of the way before we go down to New Zealand, so we can focus on the task at hand, which is winning another World Cup."