Star midfielder tore an ACL last December and hasn’t played in a game since, leaving her with nary a tuneup before the Olympic Games.
Of the many words often used to describe Megan Rapinoe, anxious is not near the top of the list.
Common descriptors include bold, brash and brave — outgoing, outspoken, gaaay — but rarely anxious.
Rapinoe has not seen game action since late last year, when she tore the ACL in her right knee while training with the national team in December. She has not played a single minute of the Reign’s National Women’s Soccer League campaign.
And yet, when USWNT coach Jill Ellis announced her 18-player roster for the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, there was Rapinoe’s name as perhaps the most surprising inclusion on the list.
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So while Rapinoe is “more than ready” to get back on the field, it will be with a slight twinge of apprehension.
“(I’m) anxious, I think,” Rapinoe said following her Reign sendoff ceremony earlier this month. “… I haven’t played a game yet. Obviously, it would be nice to have seven or eight games under my belt heading in. But that’s not the reality. Anxious in a little bit that way, but also in a good way. I feel ready. I trust where I’m at right now.”
She was hoping to get a tune-up match or two in during the squad’s run of pre-Olympic friendlies but suffered a calf strain in camp.
“I would prefer my first minutes back not to be in the Olympics,” said Rapinoe, but it’s obviously preferable to not making the trip to Brazil at all — an alternative that looked all too likely when she suffered that ACL tear just eight months ago.
She’s overcome similar injuries before — Rapinoe twice tore her ACL in college at the University of Portland — but this recovery timetable is remarkable even by her standards.
That Ellis is willing to take a risk on Rapinoe, using a valuable roster spot on a player still recovering from a major injury, is a testament to the 31-year-old’s value to the team.
It’s not as if this is a squad lacking for alternatives. Just a year removed from winning the Women’s World Cup title, the U.S. will seek its fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal.
The USWNT would have been heavy tournament favorites even without Rapinoe.
The top-ranked team in the FIFA rankings is 14-0-1 this year, with only a 3-3 draw in a World Cup final rematch with Japan blemishing an otherwise spotless record.
Richland native and former Washington Husky Hope Solo will again start in goal, having recently become the first-ever keeper to record 100 international shutouts.
World Cup hero Carli Lloyd recovered from a knee injury of her own in time to make the team, and forward Alex Morgan is as healthy as she’s been in years. There are plenty of familiar standbys dotting the roster (Becky Sauerbrunn, Ali Krieger, Kelley O’Hara, Tobin Heath) mixed with a handful of fresh names hoping for a breakout tournament (Allie Long, Crystal Dunn, Mallory Pugh).
What Rapinoe hopes to provide is a spark off the bench, plus a steadying and positive presence in the locker room.
“It will really depend on the match,” Rapinoe said. “This is very soon. And I’m not ready to play 90 minutes. So whatever I can offer and whatever it is Jill asks of me, that’s what I’ll be ready to contribute.”
The USWNT opens Olympic play against New Zealand on Wednesday in Belo Horizonte, followed by subsequent group-stage matches versus France on Saturday and Colombia on Tuesday.