megan rapinoe

Thinking through Megan Rapinoe’s overshadowed breakout

6 Comments
source: AP
United States’ Megan Rapinoe, kicks the ball during the semifinal women’s soccer match between the United States and Canada at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, in Manchester, England, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Alex Morgan’s header. Christine Sinclair’s hat trick. Marie-Eve Nault’s hand ball. And Christina Pederson.

Oh, Christina Pederson.

Editors had plenty of options when picking headlines for Monday’s Miracle in Manchester, all of which was bad news for Megan Rapinoe. Not that she seemed to care. She was in the right spirits after a match, relegated to a footnote when, under most circumstances, she should have been the story.

Two goals in an Olympic semifinal? The group is small: Wei Haiying (China, 1996), Cristiane (Brazil, 2008), Angela Hucles (USA, 2008), and now Megan Rapinoe. And Christine Sinclair, of course.

Part of the reason that list is so short (in addition to the accomplishment being difficult): Women’s soccer at the Summer Olympics hasn’t been around long. This is only its fifth tournament. Still, if you take out all those caveats, you’re left with have an elimination match between rivals. The stakes: A spot in a major tournament final, the world champions waiting on the other end. The only bigger stakes were the ones that awaited the winner, yet both Sinclair and Rapinoe gave potentially career-defining performances.

Long after Sinclair’s retired, they’ll talk about her hat trick against the United States. If history’s fair to Rapinoe, it will note she was the reason the U.S. were in position to pull off a miracle.

source: Getty Images
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – AUGUST 06: Christine Sinclair of Canada reels away after scoring the second goal against USA during the Women’s Football Semi Final match between Canada and USA, on Day 10 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Old Trafford on August 6, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
There had been qualms about Christine Sinclair’s showings in big matches, but nobody will be surprised to see her name among the best goal scoring performances in Olympic history. Now with 143 international goals, Monday’s match will serve as a breakout moment for a overshadowed star. Sinclair has been just as prolific as Abby Wambach while receiving a fraction of her publicity. It’s about time that changed.

Megan Rapinoe, however, does not have Sinclair’s resume. Before the World Cup, she had been a squad player for the United States, starting on the bench for most of the States’ big matches. At Germany 2011, although she tallied a goal and three assists, Rapinoe only started two of six matches. Whereas her former University of Portland teammate (two years older) has appeared 189 times for Canada, Rapinoe has “only” 57 caps. Her 15 goals rank eighth amongst this year’s U.S. Olympians.

But without much fanfare, Rapinoe’s status changed in Great Britain. Perhaps it’s her connection with the fans or a personality that makes it seem she’s always accessible, but Rapinoe had become one of the fan’s starters, even if she’s only solidified that role this summer.

Now, Rapinoe’s part of a group that’s redefined Pia Sundhage’s formerly static starting XI. Along with Lauren Cheney, Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, and Kelley O’Hara, Rapinoe is giving U.S. fans a glimpse of Canada 2015’s core. She’s part of a group that grew up inspired by the 99ers, yet unlike the other women who’ve claimed starting roles, Rapinoe is already well into her post-college career. Sundhage’s four other changes are all 23-24 years old. Rapinoe turned 27 last month.

As important, Rapinoe is four years removed from her last days at Portland. In 2009, while the U.S.’s next stars continued to hone their skills in college, Rapinoe went to Women’s Professional Soccer – the professional league that promised to be the world’s standard for the women’s game. Selected second overall by Chicago in the league’s first draft, Rapinoe started a three-year journey that saw her go from the Red Stars, to Philadelphia, to an infamous magicJack squad that paid an eye-boggling $100,000 to get her from the Independence.

Interestingly (and for those of us who loved WPS, perhaps disappointingly), Rapinoe is the only starter whose national team status has improved with her WPS experience. Cheney and Heath were embedded in the pool based on their college credentials. O’Hara never played defense in WPS, while Morgan’s only league experience was during its chaotic third season. Amy Rodriguez, the only player picked ahead of Rapinoe in the 2009 draft, saw her national team career regress during her roller coaster WPS career.

Rapinoe, on the other hand, was restored by WPS. After breaking into the national team setup in 2006, she tore her ACL in 2007, not only missing her junior year at Portland but also moving out of the picture for the 2007 World Cup and 2008 Olympics. After one more year with the Pilots, Rapinoe left school (forgoing an extra year granted by the NCAA) and went pro. During the league’s three seasons, Rapinoe made 52 appearances and scored six goals, missing much of the 2011 campaign while in Germany.

source: Getty Images
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – AUGUST 24: Professional women soccer players (from left) Megan Rapinoe, Marian Dalmy, Abby Wambach and Sarah Huffman pose for a photo before the San Francisco Giants game against the San Diego Padres at AT&T Park on August 24, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
With WPS folding earlier this year, Rapinoe may be the only example of what a domestic league can do for the national team. Her time in Chicago was crucial to reestablishing her place in the team’s set up. Although she was already getting games with the team, Rapinoe was able to fast-forward a career that injury had tried to curtail, getting matches week-in, week-out in (what was then) the world’s most talented league.

Now, thanks to two goals in an Olympic semifinal, Rapinoe’s WPS experience could be relegated to a footnote on her career’s resume. She has the talent to play in any league in the world (and start for almost any team). Having already ventured down to Australia for a brief sojourn with Sydney FC, Rapinoe could become one of the few U.S. stars to embrace opportunities overseas, even if that’s only splitting time between Australia and whatever league sprouts up in the U.S.

With one of the more effervescent personalities in the sport, Rapinoe won’t be short of options. In the year she’s been starting for Pia Sundhage, she’s established herself as one of the world’s elite wide players. After her Olympics performances, any opportunity may literally be a phone call away.

Her Monday double may have been overshadowed, but with star power that’s likely to keep her on the map through the next World Cup, Rapinoe won’t be forgotten.

2-time defending champions Sevilla back in Europa League final behind Gameiro brace

SEVILLE, SPAIN - MAY 05:  Kevin Gameiro of Sevilla FC celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the UEFA Europa League Semi Final second leg match between Sevilla and Shakhtar Donetsk at Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan on May 05, 2016 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

Sevilla is getting pretty good at this European competition thing.

The two-time defending Europa League champions are back in the finals after topping Ukranian giants Shakhtar Donetsk 3-1 in Seville thanks to a pair from Kevin Gameiro plus an insurance goal from Mariano.

With the aggregate even at 2-2 coming into the second leg, Gameiro got things started in the ninth minute all by himself when he pilfered the ball off Maksim Malyshev in the attacking half and stuck it home into the far post. Shakhtar hit back just before halftime when former Arsenal striker Eduardo finished off a wonderful through ball by Marlos that split the Sevilla defense, tying things at 1-1 and the aggregate at 3-3.

[ MORE: Liverpool into Europa League final after running Villarreal ragged ]

But with Shakhtar still trailing on away goals, Sevilla put things away straight after the break when Gameiro again proved vital. The 28-year-old Frenchman took a feed from Grzegorz Krychowiak and finished from a very tight angle. Mariano left no doubt when he struck a stunning curler that bent inside the left post and put Sevilla 3-1 up.

Sevilla has not failed in European play since they dropped out of the Europa League qualification round to Hannover 3-2 on aggregate in August 2011. They won the title in 2014 on penalties after drawing 0-0 with Benfica in Turin, and they took down Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk 3-2 in last year’s final from Warsaw.

Liverpool 3-0 Villarreal: Sturridge sends Liverpool to Europa League final

LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 05:  Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool celebrates as Bruno of Villarreal scores an own goal for their first goal during the UEFA Europa League semi final second leg match between Liverpool and Villarreal CF at Anfield on May 5, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

For Liverpool in Europe, there’s just no place like home.

Back to Anfield down 1-0 to Villarreal in the Europa League semifinals, they turned the matchup on its head with a 2-0 win that sent the Reds to the finals in Switzerland. It’s their fifth straight win at home in European play, and the club is undefeated at Anfield in Europe since October of 2014.

The hosts were on the front foot from wire to wire, and who else but Daniel Sturridge provided the winner, a 63rd minute strike on a wonderful link-up with Roberto Firmino. Adam Lallana put the game away with 10 minutes to go, sending the Reds through.

Both sides looked as if they came to play, but Liverpool appeared the most dangerous, and they were rewarded just seven minutes in. A cross from Nathaniel Clyne was tipped by Villareal goalkeeper Alphonse Arreola and fell straight to Roberto Firmino on the far side. He popped back across the face of goal, and while Sturridge inexplicably whiffed with his sliding chance from point-blank range, his effort put off defender Bruno just behind him, and the ball skipped in off the defender’s hip for an own-goal.

[ RELATED: Two-time defending champions Sevilla book spot in Europa League final ]

The visitors appeared rattled by the opening goal, and with Liverpool pressing they nearly doubled the lead five minutes later. The ball finally cleared by Villareal, a wonderful tackle by Dejan Lovren prevented a counter and sent it back at them. James Milner threaded Adam Lallana through past the back line, but the England international put his off-balance effort just wide of the far post.

[ MORE: Liverpool program features Hillsborough tribute ]

Things got chippy past the half-hour mark, with the atmosphere tense. Roberto Soldado went down dramatically after Clyne brushed the back of his head which earned Clyne a caution. Denis Suarez was also lucky to not earn himself a card as well for a few hard challenges.

Following the halftime break, Liverpool came back out on top, with James Milner getting a big chance five minutes in, only to have his shot blocked straight to Areola.

As the Reds continued to push forward, they went two up and into the ascendency in the two-legged tie. A cross by Lallana deflected up front to Firmino, and he expertly unlocked the Villarreal defense sending Sturridge through, and the frontman slotted it home.

It would get worse for Villarreal as Ruiz earned his second yellow with 19 minutes to go as he felled Lallana on the edge of the box, picking up his second yellow and earning an early exit. Liverpool would capitalize, with Firmino cutting back to Sturridge in the box. The striker put a weak effort on net, but it bobbled to Lallana who spun and poked home with the outside of his foot to go 3-0 up and secure the result. Jurgen Klopp brought on Joe Allen for the final 10 minutes, and the hosts locked things down.

The Reds will take on defending champions Sevilla in the Europa League final on May 18 after the Spanish club took down Ukranian giants Shakhtar Donetsk 5-3 on aggregate.

Success, then sustainability. How Leicester City can keep it rolling next season

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 03:  Leicester reacts to Leicester City's Premier League Title Success on May 03, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s well known by now that Leicester City beat 5000-1 odds to win the Premier League. Now that they’ve crested the mountain, staying there is a whole new challenge, one that will present even greater odds.

When Blackburn won the Premier League in the 1994/95 season, they were unable to bottle that season’s success, finding themselves in a tailspin that saw their manager resign by October of 1996, and the club was relegated in spring of 1997. Just by that case study alone, it’s clear that for a small club that finds untold riches, the prospect of saving for the future is one that can easily escape among the chaos of success.

If winning the Premier League is climbing Mt. Everest, then maintaining that success is traveling to Mars.

That being said, Leicester could not have picked a better time to catch lightning in a bottle. With the influx of money at an all-time high, the player pool deeper than ever, and other English clubs in a state of transition, now is the time to pounce on the foundation they’ve built.

So how should the Foxes ensure the club returns to glory? Here are a few general rules for Claudio Ranieri and the rest of the Leicester City management to follow.

Forget about winning the title again

Having beat the odds, shocked the world, and captured the crown, everyone from the players to the staff will be hungry for more. It’s human nature. The key is to fight that. For the club to be successful, they cannot go into next season with a goal of winning the Premier League. There’s nowhere to go but down.

[ RELATED: Will Leicester City keep their stars? ]

The key is to keep expectations in check. There will be many more distractions, many more theaters of war to battle, and many more fronts to cover. Should the team specifically gun for another title run, it may hinder the long-term goals. The saying goes “shoot for the moon; if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply here. Could it happen again? Who’s to say no after this year’s magical run? But that wasn’t their goal this season, and they’ll need to resist the lust for blood in the upcoming campaign.

Leicester City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha has plenty of work in front of him this summer. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Leicester City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha has plenty of work in front of him this summer. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Don’t overspend

Money will be flying every which way this offseason. With every Premier League club earning a massive cut of the new television deals, there are sure to be much-inflated prices for lots of players. A sports marketing and data firm estimates this title run could be worth a massive $220 million to the club. Leicester’s own players will surely be tempted by heavy contracts and monstrous transfer deals.

What the club must avoid is overspending on one or two players. The staff must evaluate every player they scout, place a value on their head, and stick to that evaluation. Queens Park Rangers learned the hard way how overspending for players they wanted, and it cost them dearly when they could not stay in the Premier League. It’s hard to resist the temptation to plunk down big bucks for a flashy name, but it will only turn out poorly.

Build depth and anticipate injuries

The Foxes enjoyed untold luck this season on the injury front. None of their core group of players were injured for any significant length of time, and the club used the fewest players of any Premier League team this campaign. That is an anomaly. Next year, the club will need to significantly improve its depth, especially with Champions League play added to the Premier League, FA Cup, and League Cup competitions. European play has doomed many other smaller clubs looking to bigger pastures, so this is a must.

[ MORE: Claudio Ranieri’s best quotes and moments of the season ]

Unfortunately, depth is one of the most difficult things to achieve in sports. Players naturally want to play, and therefore luring talented players to sit on the bench and be an insurance policy is nearly impossible. This will be a puzzle that Ranieri must solve if Leicester is to navigate four separate competitions next season.

Crucial players such as Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, Riyad Mahrez, and others all maintained a pristine bill of health throughout the season (Photo: Getty Images)
Crucial players such as Wes Morgan, Christian Fuchs, Riyad Mahrez, and others all maintained a pristine bill of health throughout the season (Photo: Getty Images)

Develop a transfer plan

A number of Leicester players saw their value skyrocket this season. The likes of N'Golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy, and Danny Drinkwater will be highly coveted players in the transfer window. In addition, there will be plenty of high-profile players on other teams who will be available and could be lured by money and Champions League play.

[ MORE: Game-by-game look at Leicester City’s magical season ]

It’s easy for fans and media to aimlessly shout “hold onto your players!” but we aren’t the ones with $30 million waved in our faces. It’s just as easy for those same sheeple to toss transfer targets out ad nauseam – hunker down, because it’s happening. The key for Leicester management will be to meet, develop a transfer plan, and stick to it. Some players may go, their price too valuable to turn down. Others will join, as the decision-makers determine what they need and where to fill those needs. Should they blindly follow the mad shoutings of the silly season, things will go downhill quickly.

Maintain their identity

Above all, the club must not lose focus on what makes it Leicester City. This is a vague and difficult notion to conceive, but nonetheless an absolutely vital one. The quickest way for a club – successful or not – to lose its supporter base is to deviate from what makes those supporters love the club. It’s hard to say exactly what that is, and only Leicester City supporters can truly identify what magnetizes them to the badge. It is management’s job to identify what makes the Foxes the Foxes, and do everything in its power not to stray from that feeling.

This is an important concept for every club from the first tier to the seventh, but it’s worth pointing out in this case particularly because newfound success can intoxicate those in power, leaving them vulnerable to violating this code. It is of the utmost importance that Leicester City stays grounded, and keeps true to who they really are as a club.

Liverpool game program for Europa League match features Hillsborough tribute

LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 05:  Programmes for sale prior to the UEFA Europa League semi final second leg match between Liverpool and Villarreal CF at Anfield on May 5, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ahead of today’s game against Villarreal in the Europa League semifinals, the Reds have paid a wonderful tribute to the 96 who passed away in the Hillsborough tragedy.

On the heels of last Tuesday’s verdict that cleared the crowd of any wrongdoing in the disaster, the game program for Thursday’s match featured the Anfield crowd visible through a giant “96” on the front. On the back, a list of the 96 who lost their lives stands alone, along with the ages of the fans when on that day, with a “96” flanked by the torches from the Liverpool crest.

The jury’s verdict found in a 7-2 majority that the 96 who died in the crush were “unlawfully killed” due to “gross negligence” on the part of David Duckenfield and the rest of his security staff. It also stated that “fan behavior did not contribute to the tragedy.”

Jurgen Klopp was also featured in the program, urging his team and the fans on with the quote, “Tonight we are at our home, we are back at Anfield. this is our place and it is a place where special moments happen.”