Megan Rapinoe will likely be remembered more for her impact off the field than for her accomplishments on it. She’s made headlines for protesting racial inequality, advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, and speaking out against Donald Trump’s policies. But on Sunday, she was recognized for being the best player on the field during the 2019 World Cup.
Rapinoe’s penalty in the USWNT win over the Netherlands in the final was her sixth of the tournament, tying her with Alex Morgan and Ellen White. She also tied Morgan with three assists, but captured the Golden Boot for top scorer on the second tiebreaker, doing it with fewer minutes played than Morgan. Her six goals and three assists also saw her win the Golden Ball as the best player in the tournament.
Of Rapinoe’s six goals, her best was almost certainly her second against France. The finish is quality, but the bit that shows off what makes Rapinoe great is the movement beforehand. She loses the entire France defense, then pops back up in the box completely unmarked.
In 2015, no one expected Rapinoe to reach this level of play. She tore her ACL during the USWNT victory tour following its last World Cup win, the third ACL tear of her career. She came back quickly in a bid to make the Olympic team, but was clearly not fit enough to contribute. Rapinoe entered the USWNT quarterfinal against Sweden in the 72nd minute, but had to exit in extra time.
ACL injuries can damage careers at any age, and rushing back from them early is often career-destroying. At 31, many assumed that Rapinoe’s career as a key player for the USWNT was over. She didn’t score a goal for the national team in 2016, and played just 205 minutes in NWSL.
But to the surprise of almost everyone — though probably not her coaches Jill Ellis and Laura Harvey — Rapinoe came back with a vengeance in 2017. She turned in the best pro season of her career with 12 goals for Reign FC, plus goals for the USWNT against Japan and Brazil in the Tournament of Nations. She not only elevated her fitness to a point where she was able to win back her starting job, but improved her finishing skills as well.
Now Rapinoe, at 34, is playing the best soccer of her life. At the age even healthy players who have never torn their ACL are expected to decline, she just keeps getting better. And now, forever, the 2019 World Cup will be remembered as the one where Rapinoe was the best player on the planet.