EXCLUSIVE: Megan Rapinoe on tonight’s match against Sweden and how coming out has changed her life

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On Monday June 8, the United States Women’s National Soccer Team played their first game of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The battle against familiar foes Australia was well fought from both sides, but when the artificial turf’s black rubber pebbles settled, one player clearly stood out as the player of the game: Megan Rapinoe. Previously best known for a beautiful assist to USWNT forward Abby Wambach in the 2011 World Cup,  the out midfielder opened her 2015 World Cup by scoring two of the United States’ three goals to bring the team to a 3-1 victory.

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Rapinoe seems to have a discovered a new facet of comfort and confidence with herself both on and off the field. Since coming out publicly in July of 2012,  she has helped lead the USWNT to Olympic gold in London, was named the Player of the Tournament in the 2013 Algarve Cup, showed off her style as an ambassador for Wildfang, and earned her 100th cap for the USWNT. Despite a knee injury in January that sidelined her for several weeks, Rapinoe was fit in time for this month’s World Cup, and on Monday she exhibited a balance between composure and flair that only experience can teach.

Today, the US faces their next challenge in the “group of death,” Sweden, coached by former US coach Pia Sundhage. With a win, the USWNT will secure their move into the next stage, but it won’t be an easy three points.

Megan Rapinoe shared her thoughts on Monday’s win, her role in the USWNT, and the games that lie ahead.

AfterEllen: Two goals in the first game. Congrats! How did it feel to open the tournament like that?

Megan Rapinoe: Well, pretty damn good if I’m honest. Of course it’s always nice to get goals, who doesn’t love that. But a win is better than that. It was a very tough game, and we were challenged so much by the Aussies. To start the campaign off with three points and three goals was really important for us. 

 

AE: You’ve been especially recognized in past tournaments for your hair (that Nike shirt was amazing) and your celebrations—any surprises for us this tournament?

MR: [laughs] I may have a thing or two up my sleeve. But in the first game, I was far too amped up and wild to do anything planned!

AE: You can change one thing about the game versus Australia—what is it?

MR: We need to have a better performance all around. I think our possession was good at times, but just not enough. I think we have the ability to control the game and dominate more of the game. 

 

AE: Abby Wambach has talked about each member of your team playing their part, contributing in their way, to make this team what it is. What do you see as your part in this team?

MR:  I am not the most vocal person on the field, I think I lead more by my play on the field, and I take a lot of pride and responsibility to keep the flow of the game and the rhythm for us. I need to be a part of the build up and possession and getting other people the ball in good places for them to be successful. And I guess if I have to score a goal here and there, I will do my best.

AE: More and more you’re being acknowledged as a leader for this national team. Do you consider yourself a leader? If yes, how so?

MR: I do consider myself a leader, yes. As mentioned, I am not always the most vocal, but I have a lot of experience under my belt in these big games and I can shoulder more of a load for this squad, and I want to. I want to be a player the team can always count on and I think I am.

 

AE: Scoring, winning, etc. makes players generally happy with their team’s performance, but what little thing on the field makes you pleased with your performance when you are able to do it well?

MR: For me it’s possession and combination play. I think when this team is at its best is when everyone is involved, good movement with the ball and without, and when we can technically break down teams. It’s the best feeling to know the other team is struggling to even touch the ball.

 

AE: What adjustments do you as an individual have to make for playing on this tournament’s turf instead of grass? What adjustments does the team have to make?

MR: You have to adjust your mentality I think, because there really is not much you can do about it. Know that you will be more sore, and more banged up. And on the field it will be a little more choppy and bobbly, and just know you have to take extra attention on every touch.

 

AE: The US seems to be a bit of a second-half team lately. Is something changing at the break or are Coach Ellis’ halftime speeches just that good?

MR: That is a strength of our team that we grow within the game, we don’t and won’t run out of gas. But we do need to start strong and really take hold of the game in the first half. As we hope to keep progressing through the group and this tourney, that will be really important for us.

 

AE: Has coming out publicly since the last World Cup changed anything much for you? Within the game or outside of it?

MR: It was the best thing I have ever done. For my life as a whole, on and off the field. It didn’t feel right to me, to not come out. I am very proud of who I am and of being gay, and I feel fortunate to have this platform to talk about it. We don’t have all the same rights. There is homophobia in sport, and life, and until there isn’t, I feel a responsibility to fight for it.   

 

AE: You talked in espnW’s Pinoe about your relationship with music. Is there any difference in the music you listen to on game days vs non-game days?

MR: [laughs] Actually, there isn’t really. It’s just whatever I’m feeling at the moment. Sometimes that is hip hop, sometimes folk on the way to a game. I’m pretty mellow, though.

 

AE: Looking ahead to the next game, what’s different between Sweden and Australia? Does your preparation change?

MR: I think the Aussies were are more athletic team over all, but they don’t have the experience that the Swedes have. We have played Sweden so many times in the biggest stage. I think this game will be more of a tactical battle. 

 

AE: Are you or the team watching the highlights or replays of the other matches? Does anything/anyone surprise you?

MR: I am trying to watch all the games!! It’s the World Cup—this shit is awesome! All the games all day long I am in heaven!  I think these second games will start to show more what teams are really about, with all the nerves out now. 

AE: Let’s say you can create a game moment that tops that cross against Brazil in 2011, but this time in the 2015 finals. What does it look like?

MR: Me scoring the winning goal on a bicycle kick!!! Duh! [laughs]

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