All you need to know about the mettle of Megan Rapinoe was on display when she sat down to face the press last Thursday, ahead of the United States’ quarter-final clash with France.
At that moment, on the eve of the Americans’ biggest game of the tournament yet, the 33-year-old was engulfed in a social media storm. Comments Rapinoe had made earlier in the year, stressing that if Team USA won the Women’s World Cup she did not intend to visit Donald Trump’s White House, had gone viral. Trump had hit back in characteristic fashion.
Some players would have refused to take questions and hide from the spotlight. Others would have offered platitudes and insisted their attention was solely focused on the pitch.
With the eyes of the world upon her, Rapinoe – in her blue tracksuit and spiky pink hair – didn’t even wait for the first question. In the Parc des Princes press conference room, Rapinoe grabbed the microphone.
“I’ll just address it head on and then we can get to the soccer questions,” she said calmly. “I stand by the comments that I made about not wanting to go to the White House with the exception of the expletive. My mom will be very upset about that.
“Considering how much time and effort and pride we take in the platform we have, using it for good and leaving the game in a better place and hopefully the world in a better place, I don’t think I would want to go. I would encourage my teammates to think hard about lending that platform or having that co-opted by an administration that doesn’t feel the same way and doesn’t fight for the same things we fight for.”
24 hours later, she backed up her words with action – scoring her second consecutive brace to help the USWNT overcome a spirited France and book a spot in the semi-final. Having seen off Donald Trump and the French, next in Rapinoe’s sights is England.
The odds are not in the Lionesses’ favour. These two teams have faced off 17 times, with England coming away victorious on just four occasions. Not that history is getting coach Phil Neville down.
The Manchester United product was his usual chirpy self at the pre-match press conference.
One factor behind that confidence might be Neville’s options for dealing with the Rapinoe threat. It is expected that England star Lucy Bronze will line up at right-back to mark the USA’s left-winger. But Neville threw up another possibility.
“It might be Rachel Daly up against Rapinoe – you just never know,” he mused. Daly looked assured against Rapinoe during the teams’ most recent encounter, a 2-2 draw at the SheBelieves Cup in March. Neville hinted that Bronze might be moved into the midfield, with Daly deployed at right-back. “We have a decision to make there.”
Whoever lines up against Rapinoe, they will have a long night ahead in Lyon. The risk for England, though, is that a focus on the pink-haired sensation will see them neglect America’s other attacking options, which could be a fatal mistake.
Alex Morgan has not scored in four games, after opening the tournament with five against Thailand, and is due for a return to the scoresheet. Julie Ertz is an aerial danger from set-pieces and Tobin Heath has technical prowess in spades.
In short, Rapinoe may be the number one threat for England, but she is far from the only American player with the quality to send the Lionesses home.
When USA defender Ali Krieger suggested earlier in the tournament that “we have the best team in the world, and the second-best team in the world”, it was dismissed as typical US arrogance. But there is a kernel of truth in the comment.
Exactly eight years to the day of Tuesday’s semi-final clash, Rapinoe scored against Colombia in a group stage match at the 2011 Women’s World Cup. She raced over to the corner flag in celebration, before picking up a pitch-side microphone and belting out: “Born in the USA”.
In the years that have passed, Rapinoe’s audacity has not diminished one bit.
England fans can only pray that she and her many talented team-mates are not singing again in Lyon.