The 2015 soccer Women’s World Cup begins on Saturday, June 6 in Canada. The United States team is one of a handful of favorites to win the tournament and they’ve got a great story. Despite decades of excellent play, the team has not won a World Cup championship since 1999. That’s a whole generation of dreams denied and all the reason anyone should need to root for the team this year. To help prepare you to root for team and country, we’re going to run a short profile of every player on the 23-person roster. When female athletes take their turn in the spotlight, they often receive coverage that is slanted toward non-game aspects of their stories — marriage, children, sexual preference, perceived lack-of or bountiful sexiness, social media activity, etc. In the hope of balancing things out, just a tiny bit, these previews will strive to stay on the field, with only a little bit of non-gendered personal interest when possible.
National team experience: 102 appearances, this will be her second World Cup, and she has 29 international goals.
What to expect from Megan Rapinoe: Every player on the U.S. national team is a great soccer player. Every player in the World Cup is probably better than anyone you or I have ever played with. But there’s something different about the few players who are truly world class. World class players just look different from everyone else. They have at least one skill that virtually no one else can match. Megan Rapinoe is a world playmaker. She has exceptional vision. Vision literally means the ability to see the field, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Rapinoe has exceptional vision in one way or another, but it also means the ability to understand where every player on the field is and to anticipate where they are going to be. This is truly where Rapinoe excels. She seems to know exactly where to put the ball. Her other exceptional skill, quite handily paired with vision, is her technical ability to pass the ball to just the spot she wants. In the flow of play, Rapinoe’s approach to playing midfielder is acquire the ball, survey the field, move the ball to the player in the position most dangerous to the opposing team. Rapinoe takes the majority of the more technical set pieces, including corner kicks. Her skill on the ball allows her to be a formidable goal-scorer, especially on shots from a distance, but it’s not her primary focus. Rapinoe missed the team’s last warm-up game with a thigh injury. How much we see her on the field during this World Cup depends a lot on her health. The more she can play, the better it will be for the U.S. team’s chances.
Video: This goal, the latest scored in World Cup history, gives me chills every time I see it. Its sheer improbability has a lot to do with the skill involved in Rapinoe’s cross.
Non-gendered personal interest item: During the 2012 Olympics, Rapinoe became the first soccer player of any gender to score a goal directly from a corner kick. Oddly enough, this type of goal has been known as an “Olympic goal” since 1924 despite having never been accomplished in the Olympics until 2012.