OL Reign, 2013–
Megan Rapinoe's outstanding contribution in inspiring the United States to victory at France 2019 was recognised when she was named the best women's player at the Best FIFA football awards. The then-34-year-old and US co-captain became a World Cup winner at the second successive tournament, scored the opening goal in the final against the Netherlands, and won the Golden Boot for being top goalscorer and Golden Ball for being the finest player.
"Megan was built for these moments." said Jill Ellis, then their coach. "The bigger the spotlight, the bigger she shines." Rapinoe, who has played for seven clubs across three continents, also helped her club team OL Reign into the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) play-offs.
Rapinoe, at her finest as an attacking midfielder, is an often-subtle player who combines deft flicks, sets, and bounces in her attempts to create. Largely used from the left, her movements in central areas create spaces for others to overlap, but an increased awareness of the threat she poses means she is marked more aggressively when receiving in those same areas, forcing her to make greater use of those touches to work beyond an opponent's press (below).
If she is a relatively-ineffective dribbler, who struggles to quickly change direction and therefore to beat a defending full-back with pace, she is more effective when combining around opponents to move beyond them. When wide, Rapinoe’s quick shifts and crosses are impressive; her ability to rapidly shift possession from one foot to the other defeats opponents – usually when they stretch to block a pass or cross – and she then delivers into the spaces behind a defensive line. That she can use both feet helps her to excel when receiving infield, from where her vision encourages her to link with runners, switch play, and then potentially offer penetrative runs to support attackers further forwards.
She is also a capable second striker, particularly when play is built along the right, contributing to her improving goals return. From the left she has an increased contribution to build-ups; from the right, her movement and instinct means her penetrating into the biggest spaces inside the penalty area.
Her sense of timing often means her meeting crosses and cut-backs (below) while changing angles to lose markers or move into a further space. To that end, she can also finish effectively on the move.
Role at OL Reign
Rapinoe is most consistently the left-sided wide forward in Reign's 4-2-3-1, but from her starting position (below) she offers the flexibility and willingness to drift into the centre or right channel to stretch opposing defences and increase her team's attacking options. She is therefore given the freedom to withdraw into central territory to receive passes from those in defence, and in turn to release the relevant full-back or other attacking players into space – often the space she has vacated – and her awareness to play quickly and with few touches enhances that.
She as regularly moves to receive possession in the inside channels with her back to goal to then quickly link play as she stretches the pitch to create space, occupy wide positions, and draw the attention of opposing full-backs. Consistently demanding the ball and making herself available to take it again after playing it, she prioritises penetrating forwards, often advancing into positions from which to deliver powerful, low crosses across the six-yard box into the path of those making forward runs.
The movements Rapinoe makes in the moments before receiving the ball contribute to her creating space, regardless of whether her back is to goal (below) and she is bouncing play between those in midfield and further forwards or she is instead side-on to maintain possession and quickly play forwards. If targeting space in behind, she remains aware of the picture behind the opposition's defence and therefore where those in the centre can make runs to, using that awareness to create regular goalscoring opportunities for her teammates.
On the occasions she is the one shooting at goal, Rapinoe attempts to shoot early before the opponent's goalkeeper can adopt a set position, and she is confident shooting from a variety of angles and distances towards the left. She, similarly, is Reign's senior penalty taker, and effective when attacking an opponent one-on-one.
When she is required to defend, Rapinoe works hard to make regains, both through applying a high press or by delaying opponents' attempts to start attacks. To that end, her understanding with Reign's defensive midfielder Jess Fishlock and left-back Kristen McNabb regularly prove valuable.
Between them they work together to isolate opponents in wide territory, and often from behind Bethany Balcer, who as their striker seeks to cut out passing lanes into central areas and therefore prevent opponents from changing their point of attack. Rapinoe defends with energy and intensity, and uses her body shape to force opponents back infield to where her teammates are positioned and braced to challenge for the ball before quickly transitioning into attack.
Author: Tony Hodson