megan rapinoe

Thinking through Megan Rapinoe’s overshadowed breakout

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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.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday