20/04/2024

Megan Rapinoe will compete in her last FIFA Women's World Cup. (Photo: Olympics)

The 2019 Women’s Ballon d’Or winner and one of the most illustrious players in women’s football Megan Rapinoe is set to play in her final World Cup, announcing she will retire at the end of the 2023 NWSL season.

Deciding to announce her retirement before the beginning of the World Cup campaign so it doesn’t distract her teammates, the United States will be hoping to send her off in style.

The reigning back-to-back Women’s World Cup winners, the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) will attempt to make history this World Cup, aiming to become the first country to win three successive titles. However, the Americans will have their work cut out for them to achieve the accomplishment.

Knowing there is a target on their back, the country is under the more pressure than anyone else. Led by Rapinoe and long-time teammate Alex Morgan, the US has never finished outside the top three at the World Cup since its inauguration.

While they are certain to make their way out of the group stages, the squad brought to Australia and New Zealand is extremely different from the team that won in 2019.

Instead of relying on experienced veterans, the United States have decided to rely on their younger superstars. Youngsters Naomi Girma (23), Sophia Smith (22), Trinity Rodman (21), and Alyssa Thompson (18) headline the younger generation on the roster, particularly Smith and Thompson.

The 2022 US Female Player of the Year, Smith is also the current NWSL MVP winner after being drafted with the number one pick in the 2020 NWSL draft by the Portland Thorns FC. During her time in the NWSL, she has accumulated 32 goals from 55 games.

No stranger to the international arena, Smith has represented the USA in the 2016 FIFA U17 and 2018 FIFA U20 World Cups, before earning her first international appearance at the end of 2020 against the Netherlands. Since then, the forward has played 30 international games, recording 12 goals.

Alyssa Thompson is another player to watch. Thompson will enter the World Cup squad as the second-youngest player to ever represent the USWNT at a World Cup. If the forward gets the opportunity to take the pitch, she will only be behind compatriot Tiffany Roberts, who debuted at the age of 18 years and 32 days in 1995.

While the youngsters will have a major role in the tournament, none will be more important than Rapinoe and Alex Morgan.

If Rapinoe is to get the glorious farewell of winning another World Cup, she and Morgan will need to play out of her skin just like Lionel Messi did for Argentina in 2022.

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The 38-year-old is still in great form, equal third for assists in the NWSL this season. Whilst Morgan won the NWSL Golden Boot last season with 15 goals, reclaiming the peak form that saw her claim the 2019 World Cup Golden Boot.

“Obviously I’m 38 years old, I’m not going to be playing forever and it just always feels weird for me to have something settled and feel at peace and to not answer a question honestly,” Rapinoe said about her retirement via ESPN.

“I kind of wanted to have that for myself.

“I think it allows me to focus a lot more, allows the team to focus a lot more. We don’t have to get questions every time, every single game. It’s just kind of out there and I can just really enjoy it and focus on trying to win the tournament.”

Rapinoe also discussed what it would mean if she added another World Cup title.

“I think especially those of us who have been around for a long time, it certainly wasn’t like this for all the World Cups that we’ve been a part of our entire career,” she added.

“I think we can really see and feel the game growing and world changing around us.

“I know what that meant for me to be able to see Mia Hamm up close or see Brandi Chastain up close when I was younger, so hopefully it’s an inspiration to them, but I think it’s also an inspiration to us as well.”

The USA began their World Cup campaign with a win against Vietnam on Saturday and will now face European powerhouses the Netherlands and Portugal in their last two group matches.

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