The 38-year-old American said this month she will retire after the tournament — an announcement timed to help the squad avoid distracting questions about Rapinoe’s future.
“I’m just grateful to be able to do it in this way,” Rapinoe said. “I understand that it is 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.”
Her final World Cup begins Friday when the U.S. plays Vietnam in Auckland. Although it was Rapinoe’s desire to help her teammates focus on the tournament and not her future, her looming sendoff has still weighed heavily on the squad.
Kelley O’Hara nearly broke down in tears this week when asked what Rapinoe has meant to the team, and the game of soccer.
“I know that the world sees the Megan Rapinoe that the world sees, but we get to see her up close and personal, and the ‘Pino’ that the world sees is an incredible person and human and that is her. She brings a sense of humor and lightness, but intensity and empathy,” O’Hara said. “She’s one of a kind. There’s never been one like her, there’s probably never going to be one close to her.
“It’s sad to think about this being her last, but she’s done such incredible things for this team and for the world,” O’Hara continued. “I hope that we all send her out on a high.”
And midfielder Andi Sullivan said she’s yet to accept that there will be a U.S. team that doesn’t include Rapinoe whenever the Americans end the tournament.
“I don’t really think about the team without her, and even as she announced it, she did it with such grace and humor and joy and light,” Sullivan said. “We’re trying to just soak up as much ‘Pino’ as we can.”
Rapinoe isn’t expected to have a major role for the Americans, and Vietnam should not be a tough challenge in its World Cup debut. Vietnam is one of eight nations making its first appearance at the tournament and has never played the United States.
The U.S., meanwhile, has never lost to an Asian nation in the World Cup.
Reporting by The Associated Press.
FIFA WORLD CUP WOMEN trending
Get more from FIFA Women’s World Cup Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more