Standing on the pitch in suburban Boston after nearly a third full 90-minute match in a hot, muggy week of East Coast weather was a shock to the system for Megan Rapinoe.
Until these past 10 days, the crafty United States and Seattle Reign FC midfielder hadn’t played in the heat and humidity this calendar year. She went from winter in the U.S. to more moderate temperatures in France, spending the spring with UEFA Champions League runner-up Lyon.
She would be within reason to take a break after a busy six months with Lyon, but instead Rapinoe decided to jump right in and help her struggling National Women’s Soccer League team.
“I think that show’s what she’s like as a character,” Seattle coach Laura Harvey said after Wednesday’s match.
Wednesday was Seattle’s first win (1-9-2), ending a frustrating 10 weeks that saw the club lose nine-straight games after an opening weekend draw.
Rapinoe played 90 minutes for the United States on June 20 – delivering the corner kick to Abby Wambach’s head for a record-breaking goal – and then joined her Seattle teammates in Rochester, N.Y., last weekend. Ninety minutes of out-playing the fourth place Western New York Flash only produced a draw, but Seattle’s maiden victory finally came on Wednesday against a slumping Boston Breakers team, a 2-1 win in which Rapinoe played 87 minutes and created the equalizing goal.
“I think coming off a season in France, knowing I was going to be tired, was meant to be managed a little bit more,” Rapinoe said. “But after I got onto the field, when it got to the time that I was meant to come off I looked at Laura and I was like, ‘I’m fine.’ My competitive juices catch up.”
It’s no coincidence that Seattle’s first victory comes just five days after Harvey finally met Rapinoe.
Brimming in confidence, the instantly recognizable 27-year-old platinum blonde struck a shot off the woodwork – the corner where the post meets the crossbar – in the 80th minute, four minutes after nearly catching Breakers goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher off her line with a dipping volley nearly from the center circle.
It was a knuckling, driven Rapinoe free kick that Naeher spilled for Jessica Fishlock to tap-in for the 78th minute equalizer.
“We constantly thought we weren’t showing people how good we felt we were as a group,” Harvey said. “And now we’ve added the extra quality of Hope (Solo), the extra quality of Megan and you start to see a difference with us now.”
It’s not that Seattle were as bad as their 0-9-2 record coming into Wednesday’s match suggested. Lady luck just seemed to be against them. Almost nothing went right for Reign FC since January.
Solo and Rapinoe were two of the three United States women’s national team allocations acquired by Seattle in January. Rapinoe had already signed to play the spring with Lyon in France, where she fell one victory short of a UEFA Champions League title. Forward Amy Rodriguez soon after allocation found out she was pregnant, and Solo in early March underwent surgery to repair cartilage in her left wrist.
All that left Seattle without their stars – players around which to anchor a team.
Solo’s return between the pipes on May 25 brought a sense of calm, but the misfortunes continued with a dubious handball call in the box late in the match against Portland and a strange misplay from Solo in another 1-0 loss in the following match vs. Kansas City.
Still, Seattle showed signs of hope, but never had enough to finish. Seattle has scored just seven goals in 12 games.
“Megan Rapinoe is a special player, but even before she got here, we were starting to play well together,” Solo said.
“I am proud even before Megan got here (in) our ability to hold the ball. You can see we’re a team that can play.”
Rodriguez, a forward, is that final piece that Seattle desperately could have used. When – and if – Rodriguez turns up in a Seattle jersey, Reign FC will welcome a forward with international experience.
But for now, Rapinoe – whose flair is peaking following a half-season with the world’s best club team – is clearly ready to serve as an attacking threat, even if it comes from the left wing. She took nine of Seattle’s 18 shots on Wednesday.
“I’m feeling really, really confident coming off my season there,” she said. “I think it was a different style. I think it was a different kind of game. Definitely not emphasized on the physical attributes, but kind of where I could find myself in the game. More of the technical and the tactical side and just feeling like when I get the ball I can kind of impact the game in different ways, not just the physical.”