Megan Rapinoe leaves NWSL final, her last game, in tears with early injury: ‘f***ing devastating’

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USA OL Reign midfielder #15 Megan Rapinoe is helped off the field after an injury in the early minutes of the first half of the Women's National Soccer League final match between OL Reign and Gotham FC at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego, California, on November 11, 2023. This will be Rapinoe's last professional game of her career as she retires from professional soccer.  (Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

OL Reign’s Megan Rapinoe suffered a non-contact injury just minutes into the NWSL championship game against Gotham FC at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego on November 11, 2023. (Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP) (ROBYN BECK via Getty Images)

Megan Rapinoe left the final game of her brilliant football career after less than three minutes, and in tears, after suffering a non-contact injury she immediately assumed was her Achilles it was

Rapinoe entered Saturday’s NWSL championship game on the brink of retirement, looking for the one trophy that eluded her and her longtime club, the OL Reign. A title, she said hours before the game, would be “amazing” and mean “everything.”

But in the third minute, while pressing on an opponent, she suffered a cruel last blow. She put her foot down and tried to accelerate back towards the Gotham FC complex. Instead, she felt a “big pop” and went down to the Snapdragon Stadium grass.

At first she thought she had been kicked. But then she realized immediately: “no one was even around me.” It was, she later said, “devastating.”

It wasn’t long until the partners came to look at her. Athletic trainers followed. As the truth – and the realization that this was the end – sank in, Rapinoe began to smile, unlike the one she had after missing a crucial penalty for the US women’s national team at the World Cup 2023.

That, she later said, felt like a “sick joke” and “dark humor”.

Here, halfway around the world in San Diego, just minutes into her last 400-plus pro baseball game, was another.

“This gave me deep — deep, deep dark humor,” she said hours later in a postgame press conference filled with laughter and more complicated emotions.

“Definitely not how I saw this last one going,” she said.

Rose Lavelle, her USWNT and Reign teammate, was one of the first to arrive for her team on the field. “Are you ok?” Lavelle asked. “I think I just tore my Achilles,” Rapinoe responded. Lavelle held her hand as emotion overcame Rapinoe. Jess Fishlock and Lauren Barnes – along with Rapinoe who are known as the Reign’s “three OGs” since the start of the club’s 2013 season – also comforted her.

Rapinoe pulled her short jersey up over her face, then lowered herself back to the ground, lying prone while the team’s medical staff examined her ankle and Achilles area. . She later explained that she had a “dead leg”.

As her fate became apparent, the crowd went into a frenzy. Fans of both teams and neutrals watched – in person and on TV, coast to coast – in disbelief, then he got up to give Rapinoe a hug.

“Obviously everyone was devastated for her,” Reign head coach Laura Harvey said.

Rapinoe left the field limping, and in tears, with her arms around two athletic trainers. She kissed Gotham’s Ali Krieger, her longtime friend and teammate – but Saturday, opponent – as she walked to the sidelines. She eventually texted her family and partner Sue Bird at half-time, and that’s when emotions ran high.

OL Reign forward Megan Rapinoe, right, tackles NJ/NY Gotham defender Ali Krieger as Rapinoe comes off the field after an injury in the first half of an NWSL Championship soccer game, Saturday, November 11, 2023, in San Diego.  (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

OL Reign forward Megan Rapinoe tackles NJ/NY Gotham defender Ali Krieger as Rapinoe comes off the field after an injury in the first half of an NWSL Championship soccer game, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) (Related News)

Bethany Balcer replaced Rapinoe on the left side of the King. About 20 minutes later, Lynn Williams scored to give Gotham a 1-0 lead. Lavelle equalized for the Reign five minutes later. Rapinoe, who stayed on the Reign bench instead of going out to the locker room, climbed behind goalkeeper Laurel Ivory to celebrate.

In first half stoppage time, however, Esther Gonzalez scored to put Gotham ahead 2-1 at halftime – and for good. Gotham held onto that lead and won its first NWSL championship.

As Gotham celebrated, Rapinoe cried, hugged teammates, and congratulated Krieger and other Gotham players. She later called them “so worthy.”

But for her, this was “the worst possible outcome,” she said. “Thank God I have had a very deep sense of humor.”

So she laughed and disappointed. But she also felt for a team, and thought about the unanswerable question: Why did her national team and club career end in such heartbreak?

“I mean, I don’t deserve this,” she said with a laugh. “I’ll tell you that. I’m a better person than this.”

She didn’t blame anyone or anything. Not the field, which was challenged a week earlier by a college soccer game and then an NWSL semifinal. And not her own preparation.

“I felt really good before the game. I didn’t feel tight,” she said. “I guess I rode it until the right wheels came off.”

She also got philosophical and introspective. “You don’t always get the perfect ending,” she said. “I’ve had so many perfect finishes. I even think back to 2019, that was most perfect whole script you could ever write, personally and as a team [at the World Cup].”

Maybe that’s why she wasn’t disappointed. “I’m really upset that now I’m just a NARP – a normal ass – doing rehab, which is really devastating,” she said.

And she was preparing for a long treatment. She briefly used crutches throughout the night; and finally, she was in a surgical walking boot.

“I can’t even feel where the Achilles is,” she said. “So — obviously I’ll get an MRI and stuff, but, yeah, pretty sure I tore my Achilles.”

She joked about getting “the Aaron Rodgers treatment, whatever it is.” She thought about the effect she had on the game. And she suddenly said: “This is f***ed up.”

But even there, in an interview room next to Lavelle, after her last shot at an NWSL title faded, she was able to regain perspective.

“I’ve had an amazing career that I could never have dreamed of, done s*** that’s never been done before,” she said. “It’s been unbelievable . So I think overall, I have a real peace, and a deep sense of gratitude, to be able to play this game as long as I have. Other than that, I’m looking forward to retiring, and looking forward to my new role in the game.”

And what, exactly, will that role be?

“I don’t think you can keep me in one entity,” Rapinoe said. “I don’t want a coach, or to be stuck in one job. I have an amazing partnership with Nike which runs for another four or five years. I have a production company with Sue which we are very happy with get more involved in. I have a documentary coming out The Reign is coming out soon, I’d love to stay a part of this group in some way… And I just want to to be part of the next business level of the league.”

The end of her own NWSL stage, she admits, was “disappointing.”

“I also feel very ready to step away,” she said, and with a smile and a clear nod towards her heels, added: “Clearly, it’s time.”

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