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Megan Rapinoe’s role is evolving as the US prepares for a title defense at the Women’s World Cup


AP Sports Writer

CARSON, Calif. (AP) — Megan Rapinoe’s role is changing as the United States prepares for the Women’s World Cup.

The outspoken 37-year-old known for her Easter egg hair colors and the iconic victory pose she struck at the 2019 World Cup is the oldest player on the team now, so change was inevitable heading into the tournament that opens next month in Australia and New Zealand.

“She certainly is going to have different types of minutes. But her role, first from the leadership standpoint is so important, but also her performance on the field is very valuable for us,” said coach Vlatko Andonovski.

Rapinoe has been nursing an apparent calf injury she suffered on June 10 while playing for her club team, OL Reign, in the National Women’s Soccer League. But she’s not expecting it to hold her back.

“It was quite minor, not amazing timing, but such is life for an athlete. It’s nothing I’m worried about for the start of the tournament,” Rapinoe said Tuesday at the team’s media day. “We have a little bit of time and and we’ll have quite a bit of time down in New Zealand before we actually get going. I’m feeling good, training is going well and looking forward to getting back out there.”

Rapinoe, whose hair is a bright teal blue now, hasn’t played for the Reign since the injury, likely out of caution. Her Reign teammate, midfielder Rose Lavelle, has also been held out since April because of a knee injury.

When he announced his roster for the World Cup last week, Andonovski said he expects both Rapinoe and Lavelle to play when the United States hosts Wales in San Jose on July 9, before the team departs for its camp in New Zealand.

Rapinoe has long been a critical part of the team.

At the 2019 World Cup in France, Rapinoe scored six goals over the course of the tournament, including a penalty in a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in the final. She also finished with three assists and claimed the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball for the best overall player.

Rapinoe first played for the U.S. senior team in 2006. She has won two Women’s World Cup titles and an Olympic gold medal with the United States. She also took home the Ballon d’Or and the Best FIFA Women’s Player awards — the game’s top individual honors — for her play in 2019.

Last year, she was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“First, she’s an amazing player, so on the field you already know where the level needs to be and stuff like that. And off the field, she’s so funny and makes me feel comfortable even though like I’m so young and she’s, like, much older than me,” said forward Alyssa Thompson, at 18 the youngest player on the roster.

“She just makes me feel like I’m supposed to be here, too. Her not treating me differently and just like keeping that high energy makes me feel really comfortable and like happy in the environment,” Thompson added.

The U.S. squad will need Rapinoe’s experience and leadership. The team has 14 players on the roster who are making their World Cup debuts. The United States kicks off the tournament in Auckland with a match against Vietnam on July 21.

“It’s obviously a little different but the vibe is still the same,” Rapinoe said. ”Just wanting to constantly strive for whatever the next thing is. This is not a team that does any resting on its laurels, it’s always about the next game, the next type of progress we can make, the next thing we can fight for, where we can use our platform, and how we continue on the field to be the absolutely best team that we possibly can.”


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