Why Megan Rapinoe didn't play in USWNT's vital World Cup win over England

Columnist
Yahoo Sports

LYON, France — During a World Cup when Megan Rapinoe scored five goals, including all four of the United States tallies in two knockout games, dealt with best-in-class defenders, a summer heat wave and a social-media kerfuffle with Donald Trump, she finally found something nearly too stressful to handle.

Sitting and watching the U.S. defeat England, 2-1, in Tuesday’s semifinal victory.

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“It’s terrible,” Rapinoe said. “It’s so stressful.”

Rapinoe was sidelined with what was deemed a “slight hamstring strain.” It is likely more severe than that. While the United States has incredible depth and a more-than-capable backup in Christen Press, who scored the game’s first goal, about the last thing coach Jill Ellis wants is Rapinoe out of the lineup right now.

Rapinoe said she expects to be back for Sunday’s final against either Sweden or the Netherlands.

“It’s definitely a process between all of us, a culmination of how I feel and how it looks,” Rapinoe said. “I expect how I feel now to be ready. As it is with these things, you go day-by-day and see how it is.”

She paused and mimicked picking up a phone and calling the team doctors.

“Hi, it’s me again, can I get checked again?’” she said with a laugh. “But I do expect to be ready for the final.”

Rapinoe said she injured the hamstring late in Friday’s 2-1 quarterfinal victory over France in Paris. She scored twice that night, but the wear of a long tournament has taken its toll on the 33-year-old.

Press has routinely been a late-game substitution in an effort to save Rapinoe, yet there was no indication or reports of an injury.

United States' Megan Rapinoe warms up before the Women's World Cup semifinal soccer match between England and the United States, at the Stade de Lyon outside Lyon, France, Tuesday, July 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
United States' Megan Rapinoe warms up before the Women's World Cup semifinal soccer match between England and the United States, at the Stade de Lyon outside Lyon, France, Tuesday, July 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

As such, when the starting lineup was announced about an hour before the England game, American fans and media were stunned. Due to Rapinoe’s dust-up with Trump, anything she does can take on a life of its own — with social media speculation running the gamut from politics to even the concept that coach Jill Ellis sat her for tactical reasons.

U.S. Soccer would only say that it “wasn’t a disciplinary issue,” which didn’t tamper down the noise.

When Rapinoe didn’t participate in pregame warmups, the truth was clear. It was just an injury. (Generally, as tactics go, playing your best and most productive player in a tournament is usually a good move.)

Ellis said the team kept things quiet because there was a minuscule chance Rapinoe would actually play. If the game ended in a tie and headed to decisive penalty kicks, she could have conceivably been inserted to take a kick. Rapinoe is the Americans’ top-ranked player on PKs.

“There was an outside chance Pinoe could take a penalty so we didn’t want to extend ourselves more than we wanted to,” Ellis said. "I think every coach wants to keep their cards as close as possible."

That wasn’t needed, of course. Instead Rapinoe spent the night screaming for her teammates and even bringing water bottles to them when possible. The rest of the time she fretted and struggled with not having any control over the outcome.

“It’s hard,” Rapinoe said. “You put everything into this game. Obviously all of the players who don’t get to play every game, you have everything invested in it and no way to get rid of all that anxiety, you can’t run or play or smash into anybody.

“You just try to give all the energy you have to the team,” she continued. “It’s also like incredible to sit there in awe of your teammates. You have incredible performances. It’s pretty special.”

That included Press scoring on a header in the 10th minute, reminding everyone of how she could be a starter on essentially any other team in this tournament.

“We’ve been talking about this depth that we have for months and months and months and all throughout this tournament and it was on full display tonight,” Rapinoe said.

Indeed, the team has so much talent that 2015 World Cup hero Carli Lloyd and promising young star Mallory Pugh could have also replaced Rapinoe. It’s why players said no one batted an eye, let alone panicked, when Ellis said Rapinoe wasn’t playing.

Megan Rapinoe (right) was still there for the USWNT, cheering at the top of her lungs. (Getty)
Megan Rapinoe (right) was still there for the USWNT, cheering at the top of her lungs. (Getty)

“Just a minor hamstring,” Rapinoe said. “It’s not really even a strain. But not really able to go today, just felt like it wasn’t going to hold up.”

The game also featured an epic late-game save on a penalty kick by goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who proved herself as a worthy successor to the American net from previous World Cup-winning keepers Hope Solo and Briana Scurry.

At the end of the game, Rapinoe couldn’t help jogging down to celebrate with Naeher for her victory-sealing save.

“I wasn’t sprinting,” Rapinoe said. “I am not allowed to run yet. I took it easy. Hopefully my up and down during the game wasn’t too stressful.”

And when she lifted Naeher in the air to celebrate postgame? Rapinoe joked that it was all “glutes” and those are fine.

Afterwards, she was just happy it was over. The Americans were onto the final and her teammates had played brilliantly in dispatching a very tough English team. And, she was confident she’d be ready for the final.

If she’s even needed.

“Maybe they don’t need me for the final,” Rapinoe said. “Maybe I just got pushed to the side.”

On a team this good, with a replacement as talented as Christen Press, anything is possible, but that one is rather unlikely.

If Megan Rapinoe is healthy, Megan Rapinoe is going to play.

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