USWNT off to New Zealand, Megan Rapinoe is retiring — but she’s got to wrap up a few things first

The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, July 10, 2023

The United States is off to New Zealand. The team hopped on a flight out of San Francisco on Sunday night, so by the time you read this, the players will be there.

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But first they played a final tune-up against Wales in San Jose. Rose Lavelle was on the bench, as was Megan Rapinoe and Julie Ertz. You certainly don’t want to risk anything going into the World Cup.

Alyssa Thompson started and I was looking to see how she’d fit in with Alex Morgan and Sophia Smith. There was one instance late in the first half where her inexperience was highlighted by an ill-advised shot. But overall I thought she did well. She’s just 18, after all.

(Editor’s note: Speaking of Alyssa Thompson…)

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At The IX, we deliver a newsletter to your inbox six days a week across six sports, with original reporting, analysis, interviews with newsmakers and links to work being done across the women’s sports media landscape. With so much going on in the world of soccer — between the upcoming World Cup and the ongoing NWSL regular season — subscribe now and save 21% for your first year. That’s 21% as in rising star and No. 21 for Angel City FC, Alyssa Thompson.

Trinity Rodman emerged as the star of the match with a pair of goals — becoming the youngest USWNT player to have a brace. AP’s writer at the match, Janie McCauley, noticed a moment during the send-off ceremony after the match when Rodman and Megan Rapinoe stood together, waiting to be announced: A legacy player with a newcomer.

While the U.S. looked a bit underwhelming in the opening half, I don’t put a whole lot of stock in these send-off matches. I mean, they don’t count toward a trophy. I went to that scoreless draw with South Korea ahead of the 2015 World Cup run. It wasn’t great. But then the U.S. won. The coaching staff is always looking at things we don’t see.

Moving on to the big story of the weekend: Megan Rapinoe announced that she’s retiring from the game at the end of this season. It will be her final World Cup.

I’m not quite ready to say goodbye just yet, I’m still waiting to see her in the World Cup. It will be interesting to see how she is used but I’m guessing she’ll be a super sub.

I first watched Rapinoe when she played with the University of Portland. She was clearly a gifted player, but a pair of knee injuries made me concerned for her long-term durability. All these years later, she has clearly proven me wrong.

Megan (I’ve never really been able to call her Pinoe, which is weird I know) was more that just a player, as you all know. I think her defining moment for me was when she kneeled for the anthem in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. It took f-ing guts, knowing the firestorm that she would face. Indeed, U.S. Soccer temporarily changed a rule to ensure players would stand going forward. It was later rescinded.

I get a lot of USWNT-related hate mail. If I have to hear about that stupid Dallas boys scrimmage again I swear my head will explode. I hear about Rapinoe a lot. I never respond, but if I did I’d want the haters to know that Megan is one of the smartest and kindest people I’ve ever had the honor to meet and cover. She embodies the America spirit of standing up for what you believe in. She’s also a great quote and a reporter’s dream.

More simply, she’s just a badass.

Hey, just one final note: I’m on Threads at @anniempeterson. I’d love a follow if you’re there too! Haven’t decided what I’m doing yet with social media. Twitter is still better for following things in real time, but it seems that Threads has fewer racists and transphobes. I follow Twitter during games but just my soccer lists.

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Meg Linehan did a nice job here with a story from 2019 on Rapinoe’s legacy for The Athletic.

The New York Times’ take on Rapinoe.

Nice story from Bella Munson of The Equalizer on what Rapinoe’s teammates have to say about her.

Really cool story from Gwendolyn Oxenham on the first soccer mom.

Sandra Herrera did a great story on Rose Lavelle for CBS Sports.

This is really bad: The guardian reports that Zambia’s coach has been accused of sexual misconduct.

The story came after Zambia’s big win over Germany in a tune-up match.

From the Athletic: England’s women are upset about the lack of performance-based bonuses.

Time magazine with non-US players to watch in the World Cup.

A handy guide for those of you who may not understand how the group stage works!

ProSoccer Wire’s Seth Vertelney on how VAR will work at the World Cup.

ESPN with an interesting story on Sarina Wiegman’s strategy for England.

This is a bummer: Amadine Henry is out of the World Cup with a calf injury.

ESPN with a look at the Africa teams headed to the World Cup.

The great Susie Rantz recapped Friday’s action in the NWSL, and again on Sunday.

Here’s the deal: There are so many great stories out there, and so many articles, that I’m just going to put some World Cup Hubs here to bookmark!

AP’s World Cup Hub (Apologies, this isn’t working on the app, just on the desktop version.)

Here’s ESPN’s hub.

The Athletic’s Hub.

CBS Sports.

The Equalizer is all women’s soccer, all the time. The premium site is really, really worth it.

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FIVE AT THE IX: USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski

Vlatko Andonovski spoke after the victory over Wales and just before the team left for Auckland. Here’s what he said.

Question: What can you tell us about the status of Julie Ertz and Rose Lavelle?

Andonovski: So they’re all healthy. They’re cleared to play. And Julie actually is a little bit further ahead of both Rose and Pinoe. The way I would put it for Julie was if this was a World Cup game or a meaningful game, knockout stage, it’s a no brainer, not even a question that she can play. Rose and Pinoe are in the build up stage, so they’re healthy, they’re medically cleared and now it’s just getting them physically ready to play minutes.

Question: What can you say about the kind of calm headedness that Trinity showed for the two finishes but especially the quality finished for the second one?

Andonovski: I would say it was frustrating, but at the same time, it wasn’t, because we kind of expected it to go that way and before I talk about Trinity, I want to give credit to Wales. I mean they were organized, they were disciplined, they defended well and made it made it hard for us. But I think Trinity came in and had a test to fulfill. She was one of the one of the players that went in that a test to fulfill to raise the pace and the tempo of the game a little bit, and we saw that the tempo changed dramatically. And obviously, the goal that she scored, the second goal, I think that’s the world class goal.

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Question: In the mixed zone, Trinity and Sophia were talking about the interchangeability that they had Sofia saying at the end of the game. What does that flexibility give you in terms of your choices for who’s starting or who’s coming in as a substitute?

Andonovski: I would say a majority of our forwards are very flexible in terms of the position that they’re playing, and they can play multiple positions and they can do that with success. We saw that Trinity went in as a nine and then found a little more success, wider. So they switched. Soph started started as a seven and then the goal that we scored she was the 11 and finished the game as a nine. I mean, it just makes it a little more unpredictable. And because of how they play, I mean, they play a lot by instinct as well. They they understand the game and use their instincts to find themselves in the game. They have the freedom to roam from one to another position to to implement or impose themselves to the game.

Question: What did you say to the team at halftime and were you worried about going to the World Cup on a sour note?

Andonovski: I don’t think I was worried because I was pretty confident we’re going to win the game. I just didn’t know when we’re going to score, how we’re going to score, or who’s gonna score. I also was pretty confident that we were not gonna get scored on as well. But at halftime, there were only two things that I said. Obviously, we watched a couple of videos in the locker room and two things that I said: One was the moments that we can increase the tempo and speed up the the play. And then the second thing was the moments that I expect him to be braver and and trust their guys and instincts. So I think that in the second half, we saw both of those things. We saw some brave decisions. And it didn’t work every time but when it did, it was great. And also I felt like we played a little bit faster, a little more intense.

Question: Crystal was just saying in the mixed zone how this group might have to be patient at times because with so many newcomers and veterans there, there are going to be some kinks to work out and just be patient and the opportunities will come.

Andonovski: Yes. I mean, if we talk about the group, particularly the one that the first 11 that was on the field in the first half. That was the first time they were they were playing together and we went through some unfortunate moments in the in the last camp or in between the camps. Obviously lost some players that were with us before so changes were necessary, and with those changes now we are going to need maybe a couple more weeks until we we get in sync but we’re very confident with where we are at right now and we can see how the end product is gonna look. And when that happens, it’s gonna it’s gonna look good.

Question: Alyssa and Trinity have dealt with a lot of the the pressure and all the media obligations going into this World Cup. How do you think they’re handling that on the field?

Andonovski: We saw that Trinity is not bothered by it at all, scored two goals. So it doesn’t bother her. Alyssa, she does receieve a lot of training and support from her teammates, from the technical staff, from the support staff, and lots of lots of guidance for how to navigate all of it. But once you get to New Zealand, I think even though we’re gonna be in the host country, things are gonna quiet down a little bit where we have a very good base camp we have a very good, very good hotel. I mean, it’s it’s a bubble that nobody can get in or out. We have training complex that nobody can get in and out. It’s gonna be pretty quiet I think for the group and they’ll get enough time to bond but also to relax and stay out of all the all the buzz around the group.

Question: It didn’t seem like there was a point where Megan was gonna play today. Was that kind of always the plan was for her to not play today or did you maybe want to but it wasn’t there?
Andonovski: She was there. We talked about it, if it really needs to happen, but at the same time, we didn’t want to risk anything, we didn’t want to rush anything. There was no need for it. It’s a friendly game. We have a really good squad, we knew that we had the quality we need to to overcome the challenges that were ahead ahead of us and wanted to give Megan just a few extra days to prepare herself and get ready physically.

Question: How do you think today will impact just your mindset and your approach as you think about this next upcoming week or so for Vietnam?

Andonovski: What this game did actually was confirm something that we have been preparing for, or talking about for years. To to explain what it is: We hear that the world is catching up, ehe world is catching up. The world has always been there. Okay, the top 10 teams have always been there. We saw that there was a different champion in 2003 it was in the US, 2007, 2011. So, the top 10 have always been there, The world that is catching up is Wales, is Vietnam, is Zambia. Portugal. These are these are the countries that are catching up. The 7-0, 8-0 games are gone. And we can see that. Germany plays against Zambia, loses 3-2. Those games are going to happen. And we what we are preparing ourselves for, is so we don’t we don’t run into into a game like that with the mentality that it’s gonna be easy. No game is gonna be easy. It doesn’t matter who’s in front of us. The opponent that is in front of us is the most important and the most important game at the moment. Right now, we know Vietnam is not gonna be easy. We saw them playing playing Germany. It was a 2-1 game. So that makes it very interesting for our group all of a sudden. So we’re preparing. We’re preparing for Vietnam the same way we prepared for Wales and we know is not going to be easy

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Annie Peterson