Rapinoe

USWNT star Rapinoe, boxer Shields win sportswomen of year

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Soccer star Megan Rapinoe and boxer Claressa Shields have been honored as Sportswomen of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation.

They won in the team and individual categories, the awards coming at the foundation’s 40th annual Salute to Women in Sports.

Rapinoe led the U.S. to victory at the World Cup in France and earned the FIFA Player of the Year award. Shields is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and middleweight champion.

Sheila Johnson, part-owner of the Washington Wizards, Capitals and recent WNBA champion Mystics, won the Billie Jean King Leadership Award. Marta Vieira da Silva, star of the Brazilian national soccer team, won the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award.

Rapinoe thanked her teammates Wednesday night and lauded Marta, a six-time FIFA Player of the Year, calling the Brazilian the greatest of all time and an “absolute hero in our sport.”

John Burke, president of the Trek Bicycle company, received the inaugural Champion for Equality Award.

One more: Tobin Heath headed for Paris Saint-Germain

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If Megan Rapinoe’s blazing a new trail with her exploits in Lyon, it looks like one of her teammates will be right behind her. Attacking midfielder Tobin Heath appears to be following in her fresh footsteps, having signed a contract with emerging Division Feminine club Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.

Her six-month deal will mirror Rapinoe’s with Lyon, with both stars set to miss the start of the upcoming National Women’s Soccer League season.

Sources within the league confirmed the signing, news that originally leaked after U.S. Soccer posted a roster for the impending national team camp detailing Heath’s new affiliation. Her official team has since been corrected to reflect her place with Portland Thorns FC; however, the announcement still says the former University of North Carolina star’s time in Tom Sermanni’s first camp will be cut short by her commitments in Paris.

Sources within the NWSL have confirmed Heath’s contract will run until June. Rapinoe signed a similar deal with Lyon.

Heath was recently allocated to Thorns FC along with Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair in what most considered the league’s most favorable allocation; however, with Heath set to miss the beginning of the season, head coach Cindy Parlow Cone must now find somebody capable of making the connection to Morgan and Sinclair.

Sources also confirm the league was aware of Heath’s possible move at the time of allocation, a fact that could explain why the league was willing to add the midfielder to a talented Thorns roster.

Love of the game

Though Rapinoe and Heath are not the first U.S. players to see time in France (Hope Solo spent time with Lyon in 2005), it’s no coincidence they are the two most prominent members of the current national team to take advantage of new opportunities in Europe. Ali Krieger was already there (Germany), as were borderline national teamers Ashlyn Harris (Germany) and Meghan Klingenberg (Sweden), but Rapinoe and Heath are the first from this summer’s Olympic team to make this leap.

The commonality between the two is their love of the game. Both Rapinoe and Heath have a reputation for being insatiable soccer players, and while Heath’s health (during her WPS days) and national team commitments have left her with a playing record not dissimilar to other her age, Rapinoe had spent time in Australia in addition to a brief stint with the Seattle Sounders Women.

With the NWSL season still at least two-and-a-half months away (no official schedule’s been released), it’s not shocking that two players who can’t get enough of the game will spend their winter in France. That each will cash in on France’s escalating arms race make the moves financially and competitively attractive.

source: APHeath was the one

There are a series of national team players entering crucial points in their development. If players like Morgan, Lauren Cheney and Sydney Leroux don’t find opportunities to test themselves more consistently against top competition, they could risk a relative stagnation. At the rate at which the women’s international game is improving, it’s no longer good enough to stay home and develop through national team tours and W-League summers. It’s unclear the NWSL will solve this problem.

Teams like Germany and France see their players near-constantly playing against top competition. The Frauen-Bundesliga and Division Feminine are among the best leagues in the world, each competition placing its best talents in a quickly improving UEFA Champions League. With the margin for error for the U.S. Women’s National Team smaller than ever, it’s unclear whether its stars can afford to miss out on opportunities to play for clubs like Lyon, PSG or the various teams in Germany.

Heath is the player with the most to gain from time abroad. She’s the U.S.’s most technically gifted player, but because of injuries incurred after leaving North Carolina in 2010, she’s never played consistently at club-level. In addition, her role as a creative presence in midfield is the type that would be consistently tested against the tactics and talents of the European game. It’s more than just a striker trying to beat better defenders.

At a very important point in her development, opportunities like PSGs will only help Heath realize her potential: That of a game-defining playmaker on the international level. Other players have that potential but fall short, but with this move, Heath is giving herself the best chance to succeed.

French pursuit

Lyon has the most talented squad in women’s soccer, but getting into the U.S. market is key for them. Club president Jean-Michel Aulus admitted as much when Lyonnais announced Rapinoe’s capture, and with rumors that representatives have also reached out to Alex Morgan, it wouldn’t be a shock if Rapinoe’s capture is the tip of the iceberg for a team looking to raise an already high bar.

PSG’s Heath signing is the same. The Parisian club signed a six-figure deal last year for Colorado teenager Lindsey Horan — a declaration of the emerging club’s financial intent — but trying to track down Lyonnais’ juggernaut, high school prospects are not enough. Playing in the wake of Lyon, PSG needed more talent.

With the Heath signing, the Parisians have made another foray into the U.S. market, one which will help them secure the second place (Champions League) spot they currently hold in France.

And just as with Rapinoe, there’s always the possibility this deal leads to something more. The core of the U.S. Women’s National Team is committed to helping the NWSL launch, but there’s nothing to say players like Heath and Rapinoe won’t finish the NWSL season in August before signing up for another stint abroad. The experience and money are hard to turn down.

Megan Rapinoe’s first day at Lyon and the value of her big move

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Yesterday, Lyon Feminine made it official, announcing the short-term capture of U.S. Women’s National Team starlet Megan Rapinoe. The club’s president followed with his own message, Rapinoe posted pics with the new boss, but it wasn’t until seeing these pictures of Rapinoe in training that it really set in. Megan Rapinoe’s going to be playing in France this winter.

I feel like I’m more intrigued by this than most. Lyon is the best team in the world (best club team of all-time?) with a loaded roster. Just training with the club will offer Rapinoe opportunities she can’t get outside of national team camps.

Lyon’s the two-time defending UEFA Champions League winners and are heavy favorites to make it three in a row. Along the way, they’ll have to defeat Swedish power Malmö, (likely) French rival Juvisy, then either German leaders Wolfsburg or defending English champions Arsenal. Those are five games with a level of play that’s unlikely to be replicated in the new National Women’s Soccer League.

Combined with matches against Juvisy, Paris Saint-Germain, and Montpellier in France, Rapinoe’s going to get more quality soccer than any of her NWSL-based peers.

Then there’s the money. Terms of Rapinoe’s deal haven’t been made public, but Lyon’s probably got the highest payroll in the world. Six-figure deals are not uncommon amongst their stars, and over the half-season Rapinoe plays in France, she may end up earning more money than she would have made over 22 games in the NWSL (given her time with Lyon, she will likely miss the start of the domestic season).

NOTE: One reader via Twitter pointed to a report that has Rapinoe making around €4,000 per month, which would be an annual salary of just over $60,000.

This all assumes Rapinoe gets the playing time we expect. She should, but Lyon has nine international-quality midfielders and attackers, many of whom feature for the talented (if mercurial) French national team. If Rapinoe doesn’t assimilate quickly, it’s not inconceivable she’ll end up on Patrice Lair’s bench.

Still, it’s an amazing opportunity, one more of her teammates should be leveraging. While the NWSL needs prominent national team stars to draw fans, a number of players are at crucial points in their development. Opportunities like Lyon’s will make them better players. Failing to take advantage of them could stunt the development of players like Tobin Heath, Lauren Cheney, Sydney Leroux and (yes, even) Alex Morgan.

Rapinoe’s a few years older than that group, but he game is still maturing. The competition at Lyon will bring the best out of her.