Chicago: Megan Rapinoe was a winner in her farewell game for the United States on Sunday, setting up a goal with a corner kick in a 2-0 triumph over South Africa.
The iconic 38-year-old striker, celebrated for off-field activism as well as glories on the pitch, ended her epic US career with 63 goals in 203 caps over more than 17 years with a 54th-minute exit at Chicago’s Soldier Field.
“It makes me really proud to know we’ve been as successful on the field as we have, but also that we’ve helped make the world a little bit better of a place,” Rapinoe said after the victory.
Rapinoe sparked the Americans to crowns at the 2015 and 2019 Women’s World Cups and gold at the 2012 London Olympics, but was a champion for social causes as well.
Rapinoe was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s top civilian award, in 2002 by President Joe Biden.
Rapinoe, FIFA’s 2019 Women’s Player of the Year, also was among the leaders of the US women’s successful fight with US Soccer for equal pay and conditions with the men’s squad.
“She has affected so many people’s lives in a positive way. She has changed this sport forever,” US forward Trinity Rodman said of Rapinoe.
“I’m so grateful I’m able to play on the same field with her as well as learn from her so she’s a legend.”
Rapinoe, the 14th player to make 200 career appearances for the US women, was replaced by Margaret Purce in the 54th minute and departed to a standing ovation, teammates coming over to share a hug before she stepped off the pitch for the last time in a USA uniform.
“So overwhelming. It has been amazing,” Rapinoe said of the day. “It has been really wonderful, to hear all the nice things, to have a closure moment, to play in front of a big crowd again.
“I’ll miss it forever. I don’t think I’ll ever be at a moment where it will feel perfect but this is pretty close.”
Rapinoe thanked fans worldwide and her teammates in speaking to the crowd after the match, saying, “I feel like I’ve been able to grow up in front of all of you.”
“It has been such an honour to be able to wear this shirt and play with all these amazing players and to just live out my childhood dream, casually, just like in front of the world,” she said.
“We fought so hard off the field to continue to create more space for ourselves to be who we are but hopefully in turn more space for you guys to be who you are.”
Rapinoe told fans: “I’m not going to go away forever. Don’t worry. I’m one of you guys now.”
Rapinoe looks forward to time off after a few final matches with her club side, OL Reign of the National Women’s Soccer League.
“I feel like I got the most out of my career,” Rapinoe said.
“I did my absolute best and maximized my talent...
“I think that’s probably why I feel so at peace.”
United States forward Megan Rapinoe (15) is splashed with water after the game against South Africa in her last national team appearance at Soldier Field. (USA TODAY Sports)