Photos of Megan Rapinoe from every year of her soccer career show her rise as an activist and sports legend

  • Megan Rapinoe is among the most well-known and highly decorated players in USWNT and NWSL history.

  • Her USWNT career came to an end in September, but she's still fighting for an NWSL title with OL Reign.

  • Here's a look back at every year of Rapinoe's incredible professional soccer career.

Megan Rapinoe is one of the most defining figures of women's soccer around the world.

The US Women's National Team superstar and longtime National Women's Soccer League great has spent decades dominating on the pitch and speaking out for what she believes in off the field. Now, after 18 years as one of the biggest names in her sport, Rapinoe has decided to say goodbye.

She played her final USWNT match back in September as the Stars and Stripes took down South Africa at Chicago's Soldier Field. But the varicolored-haired striker is still on the hunt for one last piece of hardware to add to her already crowded mantle; she and her longtime NWSL club, OL Reign, are vying for the 2023 NWSL title.

Before Rapinoe hoists one final trophy — or loses en route to the championship — let's take a look back at each year of her historic and probable Hall of Fame career:

2006: Rapinoe made her USWNT debut when she was just a rising sophomore in college.

Megan Rapinoe makes her USWNT debut against Ireland on July 23, 2006.
Megan Rapinoe makes her USWNT debut against Ireland on July 23, 2006.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Fresh off of her first season at the University of Portland — in which she helped the Pilots to an undefeated season and a national championship victory — a teenage Rapinoe received her first USWNT call-up in January of 2006. She earned her first cap for the Stars and Stripes six months later during a friendly against Ireland.

Later that fall, the Redding, California, native scored her first goal — and, minutes later, her second goal — for the national team in a friendly against Taiwan. She looked poised to become a mainstay with the USWNT.

2007: She suffered two ACL tears in a 12-month span.

Megan Rapinoe with the Portland Pilots.
Megan Rapinoe with the Portland Pilots.Rodolfo Gonzalez/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Rapinoe rejoined the Pilots for a matchup against Washington State mere days after scoring her brace for the USWNT. In the first half, she landed awkwardly after attempting to block a pass and later learned that she had torn her ACL, per US Soccer.

As she had surgery to repair her knee and embarked on many months of intensive rehab, she watched from home as the national team competed in the 2007 World Cup. She raced to return in time for Portland's 2007 season, but not even a full year after first tearing ACL, Rapinoe re-tore the ligament and once again had to go under the knife.

2008: Rapinoe took her time to recover, then enjoyed a standout senior season for the Pilots.

Megan Rapinoe with the Portland Pilots.
Megan Rapinoe with the Portland Pilots.Rodolfo Gonzalez/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

After admitting to having "rushed my rehab" the first time around, per US Soccer, Rapinoe avoided repeating her mistake and proceeded with caution. She managed to return to the pitch in time for Portland's 2008 campaign, and she shined.

Rapinoe recorded five goals and 13 assists through 22 starts on the season and helped the Pilots advance to that season's NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals. She was eligible to return for another season due to the time she missed from her ACL tears, but Rapinoe opted to move on to the pros instead.

2009: She was drafted into the Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) league and returned to the USWNT.

Megan Rapinoe with the Chicago Red Stars of WPS.
Megan Rapinoe with the Chicago Red Stars of WPS.Robin Alam/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

Timing worked in Rapinoe's favor as the Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) league kicked off its inaugural season just as her college career came to a close. She went second overall in the rookie draft and landed in Chicago with the Red Stars, per

Rapinoe started almost every one of the team's games that season, and her play was enough to earn her a spot in the first ever WPS All-Star Game.

She also played her way back onto the USWNT's radar. By March of 2009, Rapinoe was back on the pitch for the Stars and Stripes, and she quickly made her mark with a pair of goals and an assist through seven appearances and six starts, per US Soccer.

2010: Rapinoe helped the national team qualify for the World Cup and played her final season in Chicago.

Megan Rapinoe (right) handles the ball during a World Cup qualifying match against Italy.
Megan Rapinoe (right) handles the ball during a World Cup qualifying match against Italy.REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito

After an impressive 2009 campaign for club and country, Rapinoe managed to play 20 games for the Red Stars despite struggling with illness for a good chunk of the 2010 WPS season.

She was in better shape for the bulk of the USWNT's contests that year. Rapinoe scored four goals and added two assists through her 10 appearances, and when the US needed a big performance in the UEFA-CONCACAF play-off to secure their spot in the following year's World Cup, Rapinoe delivered the game-winning assist to send the Stars and Stripes on to Germany.

2011: She made her World Cup debut as instability rocked the domestic league back home.

Megan Rapinoe celebrates the USWNT's penalty-kick win over Brazil in the quarterfinals of the 2011 World Cup.
Megan Rapinoe celebrates the USWNT's penalty-kick win over Brazil in the quarterfinals of the 2011 World Cup.REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Rapinoe's made her first appearance at a major international championship during the 2011 World Cup in Germany. She scored to help the USWNT beat Colombia in the group stage, but her heroics came through in a much bigger way once the US reached the knockout round.

With the Stars and Stripes trailing by a goal in the stoppage time of their quarterfinal match against Brazil, Rapinoe served up a left-footed prayer into the box and, somehow, found a sprinting Abby Wambach on the other end. She headed the ball into the back of the net for what is widely considered the greatest goal in women's World Cup history and forced the game into penalty kicks.

Rapinoe was among the US players to convert their shot and help the Stars and Stripes advance. She'd record two more assists in the tournament — during the semifinal against France and the final against Japan — but it still wasn't enough to give the USWNT its first World Cup victory since 1999.

Back home, women's soccer was in considerably worse shape. Chicago's WPS team folded at the end of 2010, and Rapinoe was traded from the Philadelphia Independence just four games after signing with the team. Her new club, MagicJack, was terminated shortly after making its way to the WPS championship game.

2012: Rapinoe became an Olympic gold medalist, but she had to get creative for club play after the WPS folded.

Megan Rapinoe celebrates with USWNT teammates after winning gold at the 2012 Olympics.
Megan Rapinoe celebrates with USWNT teammates after winning gold at the 2012 Olympics.REUTERS/Toru Hanai

WPS folded at the end of 2011, leaving Rapinoe and many of her USWNT teammates without clubs. After a very brief stint in Australia's W-League, Rapinoe signed with USL W-League side Seattle Sounders Women to train in the lead-up to the Olympics.

Before she even suited up for the Games, Rapinoe made waves by coming out as a lesbian. The feature story in Out magazine made Rapinoe one of the first openly gay professional athletes in America.

After a heartbreaking loss on PKs in the 2011 World Cup final, the USWNT came into the 2012 London Olympics looking for revenge. Rapinoe helped lead the charge, scoring three goals — including an incredibly rare Olimpico — and adding four assists through the US' dominant run to the gold medal.

2013: She headed abroad for club play while maintaining her momentum with the USWNT.

Megan Rapinoe competes for Lyon in the 2013 UEFA Womens Champions League Final.
Megan Rapinoe competes for Lyon in the 2013 UEFA Womens Champions League Final.Action Images / Paul Harding Livepic

With two years to go until the next major international tournament, Rapinoe signed with European powerhouse Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon) in France. She contributed two goals and an assist in five appearances during that year's UEFA Women's Champions League, helping Lyon reach the final before falling to VfL Wolfsburg.

She then joined Seattle Reign in the newly formed National Women's Soccer League (NWSL). Though she only played roughly half the season, Rapinoe led the team with five goals in 2013.

She scored four goals for the USWNT that year as well. Though she only played two of four matches in the 2013 Algarve Cup, Rapinoe earned Player of the Tournament honors after helping the US hoist the trophy.

2014: Rapinoe returned to Lyon and the Reign while helping the USWNT qualify for the World Cup.

Megan Rapinoe dribbles the ball during the 2014 NWSL Championship.
Megan Rapinoe dribbles the ball during the 2014 NWSL Championship.Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images

She headed back to France to suit up for Lyon early in the year and scored three goals over her eight games with the team. Half of those appearances came during Champions League play, but Lyon suffered an uncharacteristically early exit in the Round of 16.

Rapinoe returned to the States in time to kick off the season with Seattle, though a foot injury sidelined her for a few games. She helped the Reign earn the league's best record and a trip to the NWSL Championship, where they lost to FC Kansas City.

Meanwhile, Rapinoe played 21 games for the USWNT in 2014, including five games to help the reigning gold medalists qualify for the upcoming World Cup. She started each of those five matches and contributed a goal and an assist to the USWNT's winning and undefeated effort.

2015: She became a World Cup champion, but not without some backlash.

Megan Rapinoe celebrates the USWNT's 2015 World Cup victory.
Megan Rapinoe celebrates the USWNT's 2015 World Cup victory.AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Rapinoe played in — and started — six of the USWNT's seven matches at the 2015 World Cup in Canada. She scored two goals and added two assists as the squad eked out a group-stage win against rival Sweden and dominated in the knockout stage to eventually take home the trophy against Japan.

But Rapinoe didn't return to the US without some controversy attached to her name. Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump criticized Rapinoe for standing in silence during the playing of the national anthem, per The Washington Post.

Back home in the NWSL, Rapinoe and the Reign once again dominated in the regular season to take the NWSL shield for the second season in a row. But once again, Seattle fell in the NWSL championship match against FC Kansas City.

Then, while training with the national team in December, Rapinoe tore the ACL in her right knee almost a decade after suffering the same injury in college, per US Soccer.

2016: Rapinoe recovered in time for the Rio Olympics, but she became embroiled in controversy after the USWNT came home empty-handed.

megan rapinoe
Megan Rapinoe takes a knee during the national anthem ahead of a 2016 USWNT match.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Between recovering from her ACL tear and leaving the country for the Olympics, Rapinoe only played five games with the Reign in 2016. She did, however, manage to get back into shape in time to earn a spot on the USWNT's 18-player roster for Rio.

But little went right for the Stars and Stripes on that trip to Brazil, where the reigning Olympic champs narrowly won their group before losing a heartbreaker on penalty kicks to Sweden in the quarterfinals. The 2016 Games marked the first time the USWNT failed to reach the podium since women's soccer debuted in the Olympics two decades prior.

Rapinoe, personally, was at the center of a nationwide controversy shortly after returning home. She opted to kneel during the national anthem and later explained that she intended to show solidarity with ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Not only did Rapinoe face backlash from many Americans — particularly those on the right side of the political spectrum — but also from US Soccer itself. The Federation released a strongly worded statement urging the star striker to stand for the anthem ahead of future contests, and when she refused to do so, USSF took more drastic measures.

2017: Despite playing some of her best soccer for club and country, Rapinoe fell out of the USWNT rotation.

Megan Rapinoe with the USWNT during the 2017 Tournament of Nations.
Megan Rapinoe with the USWNT during the 2017 Tournament of Nations.Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Rapinoe faced serious repercussions for kneeling during the national anthem. She was benched for multiple national team games following her initial decision to protest and, a few months later, was cut from the active USWNT roster entirely — a decision Rapinoe believed was a direct result of her kneeling, she wrote in her memoir "One Life."

In March of 2017, US Soccer formally banned national team players from kneeling during the anthem — a policy the governing body has since apologized for and walked back — and it wasn't until later that year that Rapinoe was invited to rejoin the USWNT. Even despite missing several call-ups that year, she finished 2017 as the USWNT's leader in assists and second in points behind Alex Morgan.

Rapinoe played some of her best soccer at the club level as well. She recorded 12 goals through 18 games for Seattle — good for third-most in the NWSL during the 2017 season — though the Reign narrowly missed the playoffs.

2018: She regained her place with the national team and helped Seattle return to the NWSL playoffs.

Megan Rapinoe controls the ball for the USWNT during a 2018 match against Canada.
Megan Rapinoe controls the ball for the USWNT during a 2018 match against Canada.Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Rapinoe shined for the Stars and Stripes in the wake of the controversy surrounding her decision to kneel. She played in, and started, 16 matches for the national team and logged seven goals and 12 assists over that span. Only Alex Morgan accumulated more points on the year, according US Soccer, and she did so having played three extra matches.

The Reign benefitted greatly from Rapinoe's surge, too. She scored seven goals and added six assists — giving her the most points of all Seattle players — in 17 appearances. She helped the Reign return to the postseason for the first time in three years, though they lost to their rival Portland Thorns in the semifinals.

2019: Rapinoe led the USWNT to its second-consecutive World Cup title and collected a slew of individual accolades, all while feuding with the US president and her own Federation.

Rapinoe Champ
Megan Rapinoe hoists the 2019 World Cup after leading the USWNT to victory. AP Photo/Francisco Seco

Rapinoe enjoyed the most dominant year of her illustrious career in 2019. After scoring six goals and registering three assists to help the USWNT win its second World Cup in as many tournaments, the newly pink-haired superstar earned Golden Ball and Golden Boot honors as the tournament's top player and scorer, respectively.

Months before the tournament, Rapinoe — and 27 of her teammates — filed a lawsuit against US Soccer accusing the federation of gender discrimination and unequal treatment that violated both the Equal Pay Act and Title XII. Though the lawsuit forged on beyond the USWNT's World Cup run, the team's victory — and Rapinoe's heroics — helped the players win over the public in their fight for equal pay.

All the while, Rapinoe was actively feuding with then-US President Donald Trump. Ahead of the tournament, she was filmed saying that she'd refuse to go "to the fucking White House" should the USWNT win the World Cup. Trump responded by tweeting that "Megan should WIN first before she TALKS!"

So she won, and she earned several of soccer's highest individual honors thanks to her outstanding efforts. She took home the 2019 Ballon d'Or, The Best FIFA Women's Player award, and the IFFHS World's Best Woman Playmaker trophy. She was even named Sports Illustrated's Sportsperson of the Year.

2020: She joined the rest of the world on the sidelines as the pandemic brought society to a halt.

megan rapinoe
Megan Rapinoe (right) sits courtside during a Seattle Storm game during the WNBA's 2020 bubble season.Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Rapinoe and her USWNT teammates were gearing up for the Tokyo Olympics from the start of 2020. But after she helped the Stars and Stripes win the SheBelieves Cup in early March — and protest their federation for a public display of sexism in the process — Rapinoe and the rest of the world found themselves stuck inside due to COVID-19.

The Olympics were postponed a year, and the NWSL regular season was canceled. Instead of joining the Reign for the league's bubble-style, 25-game tournament in Utah, Rapinoe headed to Bradenton, Florida, to watch her long-term girlfriend — Seattle Storm star Sue Bird — compete in the WNBA's bubble and win the 2020 WNBA Championship.

2021: Rapinoe returned to the Olympics with the national team, but the US once again fell short of its gold-medal expectations.

Megan Rapinoe reacts to the USWNT's loss to Canada at the Tokyo Olympics.
Megan Rapinoe reacts to the USWNT's loss to Canada at the Tokyo Olympics.Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports

The IOC rescheduled the Olympics for summer of 2021, and Rapinoe joined the USWNT in Tokyo for the Games. Despite having dominated the World Cup two years prior, the Stars and Stripes struggled from the very beginning of the Olympics.

They lost their opening match in stunning fashion, breaking a 44-game unbeaten streak with a 3-0 shutout to rival Sweden, but went on to finish second in their group. In the first game of the knockout stage, the US relied on penalty kicks — Rapinoe, as is her reputation, converted hers with ease — to advance past the Netherlands.

But Rapinoe and company lost a 1-0 heartbreaker against Canada in the semis, destroying their hopes of winning gold. They finished strong against Australia to take home the bronze, with Rapinoe scoring two goals in 13 minutes to secure America's place on the podium.

2022: She helped the US earn a spot in the upcoming World Cup and received the highest civilian honor in the country.

Megan Rapinoe receives her Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Joe Biden.
Megan Rapinoe receives her Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Joe Biden.AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Rapinoe had a busy year considering 2022 did not feature an Olympics or World Cup tournament. She helped the Reign — now called OL Reign — back to the playoffs, though they once again fell short of the final. She also helped the USWNT qualify for the following year's World Cup during that summer's CONCACAF W Championship.

But most noteworthy of all was the medal Rapinoe earned off the pitch; that summer, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest civilian honor in the United States — from President Joe Biden for her advocacy work involving LGBTQ+ rights, racial justice, and gender equality.

And, oh yeah, the USWNT settled its equal pay lawsuit with the federation for $22 million earlier that year.

2023: Ahead of the World Cup, Rapinoe announced that she'd retire at the end of the year.

Megan Rapinoe waves goodbye to the crowd at Seattle's Lumen Field after her final regular-season match for OL Reign.
Megan Rapinoe waves goodbye to the crowd at Seattle's Lumen Field after her final regular-season match for OL Reign.AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson

Before heading Down Under for the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, a 38-year-old Rapinoe announced that 2023 would be her final year playing professional soccer.

She and the USWNT struggled at the final major international tournament of her illustrious career, with the team relying on a near-miss from its final group-stage opponent in order to advance to the knockout round. The Stars and Stripes faced a nightmarish foe in Sweden during the Round of 16, and the longtime rivals battled to a scoreless draw through regulation and two periods of extra time.

The match came down to penalties and, in what she later described as "a sick joke for me personally," Rapinoe sent her shot sailing over the crossbar and contributed to the USWNT's earliest-ever exit from a World Cup tournament. Rapinoe is considered one of the best penalty shooters in the game and, prior to that excruciating miss, she had converted every single penalty kick she took for club and for country since 2018, according to ESPN.

Rapinoe returned home and, after playing her farewell match with the national team, turned her attention to her final season with OL Reign. She helped her Seattle side secure a playoff spot with a team-high nine points through 16 games played.

The legendary striker now has an opportunity to end her career with one of the lone awards she's yet to add to her resumé; Rapinoe and the Reign are just two matches away from hoisting the 2023 NWSL Championship trophy.

They'll face Alex Morgan and the top-ranked San Diego Wave Sunday night on the road. Should Rapinoe and company prevail, they'll play the winner of Gotham FC's matchup against the Portland Thorns for the NWSL's top prize.

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