Centurion Rapinoe set to lead USA in Canada
“You never take something like this for granted,” said an earnest Megan Rapinoe, referring to the grand spectacle that is the FIFA Women’s World Cup™, which she is about to embark upon for the second time in her career. “But I feel like I’m a little more prepared for it this time.”
The USA No15 has a keen awareness of her sleek transformation into a veteran leader on this experienced and skilled American side over the past four years, going back to when the Stars and Stripes fell just short of their third world title after Japan edged them 3-1 on penalties in the Final. Though she earned her first cap for the United States almost ten years ago, Rapinoe only made her Women's World Cup debut at Germany 2011, coming on as a late substitute against Korea DPR during the Americans' first group stage contest.
This time around, however, the California native is expected to start as a centrepiece of coach Jill Ellis’ plans and will undoubtedly be an integral part of this USA side looking to make it that one crucial step further beyond their second-place finish four years ago. FIFA.com caught up with the midfield maestro before Saturday's training session in Winnipeg as the 29-year-old and her USA team-mates continued preparations for their first match at Canada 2015, against Australia.
“Right now I’m anxious, but back then it was an unknown anxiety,” Rapinoe replied when asked about her feelings ahead of this World Cup compared to those from just before Germany 2011. “Now I’m just ready to play.
“Having that (World Cup) under my belt and knowing the run of show is helpful. I don’t think it diminishes the excitement; we’re going to show up to an absolutely packed house on Monday and it’ll be rambunctious and fun and exciting as it ever is.”
Home-away-from-home-field advantage USA take on the Matildas in Winnipeg Stadium tomorrow, a ground located less than 75 miles north of the USA-Canada border. So, that packed house Rapinoe is referring to will surely have a distinct American atmosphere, which she believes will give the United States an added edge over the Australians.
“It’s brilliant for us,” Rapinoe said with a smile. “In a lot of ways, outside of us playing Canada, I feel like these will be home matches for us. We’re so close to the U.S., and our supporters’ group, the American Outlaws, is coming and all of our friends and family will be here, too. That’s huge for us. We’ll have them behind us and that energy behind us is something we always love.”
And Rapinoe was quick to mention that Monday’s match cannot come soon enough for the former Lyon midfielder. “I’m feeling cooped up!” she said enthusiastically. “I’m ready to start playing games.
“As a pro athlete you’re normally tired the whole time, but I don’t feel that way right now. That’s a good thing. The fitness coaches have tapered us well and I think we’re just ready to get this thing going.”
When things do indeed get going, the Seattle Reign star, who recently notched her 100th cap for her country in the build-up to the Women’s World Cup, knows that her team-mates will be relying on her experience to guide them throughout the competition. “I would say I lead by example,” she said confidently. “I’m not too much of a talker. We have enough talkers in the group to do that.
“This summer I do have more on my shoulders, and I should. I’m a good enough player on this team; I’ve been on this team long enough and I know I have a big responsibility to make sure the team plays well and to take care of the things that I do well on the field. I feel more of a general responsibility knowing that I’m one of the anchors of the team.”
With the tough task of navigating a difficult Group D at Canada 2015, where USA will encounter not only Australia but also Sweden and Nigeria, Rapinoe – who turns 30 on the day of the Final – will need to live up to the high standards she sets for herself. If she can manage that successfully, then she just may have something extra to celebrate on 5 July.