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Megan Rapinoe looks toward NWSL season, World Cup

March 8, 2019
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FILE - In this Feb. 27, 2019, file photo, United States' Megan Rapinoe reacts after scoring goal during the first half of SheBelieves Cup soccer match against the Japan in Chester, Pa. Just a bit of fine tuning and Rapinoe will be ready for the World Cup. While she’s physically fine at this point, Rapinoe said she isn’t as “sharp” as she’d like to be. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola, File)

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Just a bit of fine tuning and Megan Rapinoe should be ready for the World Cup.

The outspoken 33-year-old winger with her shock of blond hair is not new to this process. She’s been to the last two World Cups, including the 2015 tournament in Canada that the United States won.

While she’s physically fit at this point, Rapinoe said she isn’t as “sharp” as she’d like to be — yet. The game’s premier event is being held this time around in France, starting in June.

Rapinoe and the national team just wrapped up the SheBelieves Cup, a round-robin tournament with England, Brazil and Japan. The results weren’t ideal for the Americans. After draws with England and Japan, the United States downed Brazil 1-0 to finish second.

“Just getting kind of back into rhythm,” she said. “I haven’t really played a lot of games like this in a few months. Toward the end of last year, I was able to take time off and get my body right. But now I’m just continuing to get sharp and be more consistent.”

Rapinoe sat out of the team’s first exhibition of the year, against France, because of a slight hamstring injury. But she’s played ever since and scored in the 2-2 draw with England in the second SheBelieves match.

The United States has 10 total games on its pre-World Cup schedule this year, with the next coming on April 4 in Commerce City, Colorado, against Australia. The team, ranked No. 1 in the world, will begin the defense of its World Cup title on June 11 In Reims against Thailand.

Part of Rapinoe’s pretournament preparation will include time spent with her club team, the Seattle Reign. The National Women’s Soccer League team started preseason workouts this past week and opens the season on April 14 at the Houston Dash.

Rapinoe, who won an NCAA title with the Portland Pilots, made her debut with the senior national team in 2006. She played in all six U.S. games at the 2011 World Cup in Germany, memorably picking up a microphone after a goal and singing Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”

At the 2012 London Olympics, she scored directly from a corner kick in the semifinals against Canada. She is the only player — male or female — to have such a goal in Olympic competition.

Considered one of the top players in the world, Rapinoe was key to the team’s ultimate success at the 2015 World Cup.

“She’s a player that you just have to have on the pitch, in terms of set pieces, in terms of game-changing moments,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said.

Rapinoe is also one of the team’s most personable players and she’s unafraid to speak her mind. She’s been particularly vocal about equitable pay and treatment of female athletes.

In the run-up to this year’s World Cup, she has pushed FIFA to use video review, or VAR, in the women’s event after it was used for the men’s World Cup in Russia last year. Soccer’s international governing body is expected to make a final decision on the matter next week.

She has also spoken out about the disparity in prize money between World Cups — France, the winner in Russia, was awarded $38 million, while the winner of the women’s tournament in France will take home less than a quarter of that, just $4 million.

She was one of five U.S. women’s national team players who joined in a 2016 complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over unequal pay.

In 2017, Rapinoe drew attention when she knelt during the national anthem before an NWSL game. She said it was an act of solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who knelt during the anthem to call attention to racial inequality.

After she also knelt before two national team matches, the U.S. Soccer Federation adopted a new rule that says players must stand for anthems. She said she’d abide by it.

For now, Rapinoe’s focus has turned to the Reign. The NWSL, entering its seventh season, is considered among the strongest domestic pro leagues in the world. Normally the club season is grueling, but in a World Cup year the players who are going to France are managed closely by their federations.

As a vet, Rapinoe also knows where she needs to be come June.

“It’s just knowing yourself as a player. I have a pretty good understanding of what I need. I feel I have a good relationship with my club as well and just being honest and open in exactly what I need,” she said. “The national team’s a priority and me personally, I’m the priority for myself, making sure that I’m in the best place to perform the best I can at the World Cup.”