Megan Rapinoe said farewell to fans of the U.S. women's national team after playing her 203rd and final time in the team's 2-0 win over South Africa on Sunday -- but promised it will not be the last we hear from her.
"I just want to say thank you. It feels like I've been able to grow up in front of all of you," Rapinoe said on the pitch at Chicago's Soldier Field after playing 54 minutes.
"When I think of what it means to represent this team and this country, we're just a little snapshot of all of you. I think this team has always taken so much pride in that and showing up as our whole selves … to continue to create more space for ourselves to be who we are, but hopefully in turn to create more space for you to be who you are. It has been such an honor to wear this shirt and play with all these players and live out my childhood dreams, just casually in front of the whole world."
Rapinoe leaves a singular legacy on the USWNT and American soccer as a whole. She played for the team for 17 years, which is the fourth-longest tenure in the USWNT's history, and delivered a batch of memorable moments on the field, including as the star of the team's 2019 Women's World Cup triumph. She has an equally impactful off the field as an advocate for equality, not limited to her status as an openly gay athlete and the USWNT's successful fight for equal pay.
She was showered with praise by the crowd, many of whom brought signs with her name to the game. She was consistently applauded throughout the match and brought some to tears as she made a speech following the conclusion of the match. The effect she's had on the sport was reflected in U.S. Soccer's song choice after her remarks, when stadium blared Tina Turner's "The Best."
Golazo Starting XI Newsletter
Get your Soccer Fix from Around the Globe
Your ultimate guide to the Beautiful Game as our experts take you beyond the pitch and around the globe with news that matters.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
U.S. Soccer also commemorated the end of Rapinoe's international career with a series of video tributes from her teammates, including longtime attacking partner Alex Morgan. The pair played together for 14 years on the national team, which gives Morgan a unique vantage point to Rapinoe's journey.
"I just have to smile at your career," she said in a video shared on social media. "You have just really impacted this team. You have made the most of your career because you have literally done it all. I am just so proud of how you get to go out on your own terms. You're a great teammate and we have that connection. You can just find me -- outside of your foot, inside of your foot, whatever it is, quick throw-in. Off the field, you're just great. You know who you are. Your legacy is so much bigger than what you did on the field."
Nike, a longtime sponsor of U.S. Soccer and Rapinoe, commissioned a new edition of a unique jingle they had for this year's World Cup to issue their own tribute to the star. The lyrics included the line "for the love of the game, she fights for all."
Want more coverage of women's soccer? Listen below and make sure to watch Attacking Third on Golazo Network Monday, Wednesday and Friday for all your USWNT, NWSL and WSL women's soccer coverage.
The national team swan song is not the end of Rapinoe's illustrious career, however. She will close out the season with her NWSL team, the OL Reign, which includes three more regular season games as the team eyes the playoffs. Rapinoe will receive another round of tributes on Oct. 6, when the Reign plan to celebrate her on-field accomplishments at their final home game of the regular season.
Though she is hanging up her boots, Rapinoe promised that she will still be a part of the sporting landscape.
"I'm not going to go away forever, don't worry," she quipped. "I'm one of you guys now, [a big] fan of this team."