- Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC.
AUCKLAND, New Zealand — United States veteran Megan Rapinoe said her role as a super-sub at the Women’s World Cup has been “rewarding” but that she “could have helped” in a substitute role against the Netherlands.
Rapinoe played a starring role in helping the USWNT to win the 2019 Women’s World Cup. She was the Golden Boot and Golden Ball winner at the 2019 tournament in France, but she has been limited to 27 minutes over the first two games in 2023, and was an unused sub in the 1-1 draw against the Netherlands — a result that leaves the U.S. needing at least a draw against Portugal on Tuesday to guarantee passage to the knockout stages.
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“I think I could have helped,” Rapinoe told reporters about the Netherlands match. “But I think Lynn [Williams] could have helped, and I think Trinity [Rodman] was helping and I think [Sophia Smith] was helping, and we had chances. It was right there for us. I don’t think that it was like all the players on the field didn’t do their job. I think that they were giving everything and still creating chances up ’till the very end and just wasn’t able to get that last goal.”
While Rapinoe always wants to be on the field, she realizes she can still make an important contribution to the team as it chases its third consecutive Women’s World Cup title.
“You can still play at an extremely high level. You can still keep a really high standard. You still have a lot to offer, both on the field and off the field,” she added.
“Maybe you’re not going to be a starter playing 90 minutes or playing the bulk of the games. But you know, sometimes the veteran players, that’s not what you need. You need the 20 minutes in two games that wins the team the tournament, or wins the game and gets to the next round.”
Rapinoe said her contribution also extends to training, where it’s her job to push her teammates to the absolute limit while making her own case to get on the field.
“Everyday in training, I’m like, ‘I’m gonna try to bust your ass,'” Rapinoe said. “That makes them better. That makes me better. That makes the whole team better, so I think it’s been really rewarding. Sometimes I think this gets lost, but I get to play in another World Cup. I get to be in another situation to compete for a championship and I think as an elite athlete and as an elite soccer player, like that’s the point. You don’t want to play in meaningless games.”
There are small details that Rapinoe tries to pass along to her teammates, too, including how a player should take care of their body away from the field.
“You don’t get to play free in the biggest moment of your life in a final if you don’t do everything else,” she said. ” So I think that’s where we always start in our preparation, and in our tactical discipline, or understanding the game and taking care of your body and all those little things. That you don’t get to mess around in training and expect to be great in the game.”
Rapinoe added she has not had a conversation with manager Vlatko Andonovski in a bid to get more playing time, even as he used just one substitute against the Netherlands. She mentioned that every player on the bench feels they should be on the field but are also supportive of those players who are starting.
“[Andonovski] knows every single sub wants to go in the game,” Rapinoe said. “He explained to [the media] that he felt like we had the momentum. Ultimately, that’s his decision. I feel like the players that were off the field felt like players on field were going to score.
“If we get called into the game, they feel like we’re going to score, so those decisions are left to him. It’s our job to just prepare ourselves and continue to give whatever energy we have to the players. But he knows everyone wants to play. We don’t have to tell him that we want to play. Every single one of these players is the best player at their club team and on the U.S. women’s national team. So we all think we should be on the field at all times, no matter what.”
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