Colorado’s growing soccer community almost certainly grinned knowingly over the exchange. It isn’t the first time Rapinoe has delivered a deadly accurate lob into a heated battlefield.
My enduring sports-crush on Rapinoe began entirely with her performance on the pitch. Very specifically, she vaulted into my upper echelon of sports heroes on July 10, 2011, in Dresden, Germany via the big screens at the British Bulldog, Denver’s beating heart for soccer fanatics.
On that sultry July day, the USWNT faced the best player in the world, Brazil’s Marta, and after a red card, did so a player down for the final 25 minutes of regulation and the entire 30 minutes of extra time. After 121 minutes chasing Marta, the US trailed 2-1 in the game’s final seconds.
In the single most memorable moment of open play in U.S. National Team history — men’s or women’s — Rapinoe crossed the ball just outside the six-yard box and onto the head of legendary striker Abby Wambach, who proceeded to ripple the back of the net. The U.S. would win the quarterfinal match in a shootout before eventually losing the final to Japan a week later.
If you freeze the replay at just the right time, there is a moment where the ball floats over an already airborne Wambach as the Brazilian keeper and center back race toward her.
At the bottom of the screen, Rapinoe stands, back to camera, both feet planted, arms at her side and head lifted, waiting expectantly.
That moment sums up the image I’ve formed of Rapinoe and her USWNT teammates in the interim. Perfect placement. Expectant. Ready to rise to the occasion no matter the threat posed by a challenge.
Of course, that describes Rapinoe both on and off the pitch. She cemented my personal admiration a year later when she famously came out as a lesbian just before the London Olympic Games where she helped the USWNT win a gold medal.
Coming just as I found myself in the midst of an uphill battle to pass civil union legislation in Colorado, and later marriage equality, her resilience became an inspiration.
Being surrounded by strong women on the USWNT likely gives Rapinoe confidence to speak out. It didn’t take long for fellow superstar teammates Ali Krieger and Alex Morgan to voice support after Rapinoe’s White House comments.
The same team dynamic helped USWNT members challenge a system that pays them substantially less their male counterparts, despite an inverse relationship with success.
Earlier in the World Cup, the USWNT scored more goals in one match than the USMNT has ever mustered in a full World Cup tournament and more than it has scored in the past four World Cups combined.
Maybe asking the judge to watch a few YouTube highlight reels might help their case.
A veteran of USMNT Snowmaggeddon match among others, I’ve never enjoyed watching any of their games as much as I did the USWNT’s recent 5-3 friendly win against Australia at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City.
Not only did Alex Morgan score her 100th career goal (with me right behind the net!), but Littleton’s own Mallory Pugh got two, including a chip shot most men would flail at helplessly before falling on their backside. Oh, and then there was that go-ahead goal by — who else? — Megan Rapinoe.
Rapinoe’s secret weapon might be the throngs of devoted U.S. soccer fans that love her. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that such an outspoken advocate is worshipped by a group of self-proclaimed American Outlaws, including the four chapters here in Colorado.
And then on Friday, facing host country France before a hostile Parisian crowd, the USWNT persevered through to the semifinals with a gutty 2-1 win. Both U.S. goals came off the right foot of Rapinoe. Even President Trump might have trouble claiming that fake news.
If the USWNT comes home with a fourth World Cup title, don’t be surprised if Rapinoe has teed up another inch perfect cross — on the pitch or in politics — just waiting to see who gets on the end of it.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, healthcare and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
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