Women's soccer has never seen anyone quite like Megan Rapinoe. Hell, the world in general hasn't either. For more than a decade, the United States women's national team star has been a lightning rod of attention and a fireball of a player, one that has transcended the game she plays and the country she calls home.
This summer, though, was her curtain call, her last dance. Not from the bright lights, of course, as Rapinoe will no doubt remain part of pop culture long beyond her playing career. The USWNT star isn't going away, that's for sure. There isn't anything in the world that could truly silence her.
No, Rapinoe, the celebrity, will continue on. As will Rapinoe, the activist. Rapinoe, the player? Well, her days are numbered. Prior to the Women's World Cup, Rapinoe announced that the tournament would be her last as she intends to retire at the end of 2023. At age 38, the time has come. Sunday's match against South Africa was her final in a USWNT shirt before she calls it a career at the end of the NWSL season.
She'll leave the game as one of its most decorated players, with two World Cup triumphs, an Olympic Gold Medal, a World Cup Golden Ball, a World Cup Golden Boot, a Ballon d'Or and a FIFA The Best Women's Player award, just to name a few.
Her time on the big stage didn't end the way she would have liked, however, as her penalty soared into the sky at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium against Sweden in the World Cup last 16, proving that even a star as big as Rapinoe doesn't often get the chance to write their own ending.
On and off the field, Rapinoe has been a dynamo, a superstar unlike any we've ever seen. From the bright hair to the aura of defiance that has so often been stamped out of a less politically-inclined sports landscape, Rapinoe is a one-of-one.
“I’m exactly what they’re familiar and comfortable with, just packaged up differently," she told TIME ahead of the World Cup. "I’m exactly the brash, arrogant athlete that Americans love.” And though her time as that athlete is coming to an end, Rapinoe's legacy on the field is secure as she's solidified her spot as one of the game's most important players.