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Timeless Megan Rapinoe is stepping up at OL Reign’s crunch time

In the last 8 matches, Rapinoe has six goals and four assists.

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NWSL: NJ/NY Gotham FC at OL Reign Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

When OL Reign’s season kicked off, a narrative was starting to form around Megan Rapinoe. She missed all of the Challenge Cup due to back-to-back injuries — first to her ankle, and then a calf strain that took a while to heal. People began to talk, asking whether Rapinoe could still contribute to her club and national teams.

Once the Reign forward got healthy, she silenced those outside voices.

In the last eight matches, Rapinoe has scored six goals and earned four assists. Had she been healthy all season, those numbers would put Rapinoe toward the top of the league MVP conversation.

But it’s not just the goals that stand out. It’s the fact that Rapinoe looks like someone who would do anything to help her team win. In late August, when the team was still climbing the ladder in the hopes of securing a playoff spot, Rapinoe essentially willed her team to victory on the road against the Orlando Pride. In addition to this ridiculous touch and assist to Bethany Balcer, Rapinoe scored a stoppage-time goal to seal the win in the final seconds of the match.

But even those two moments don’t tell the full picture. In that match, Rapinoe created the most chances (4), completed the most dribbles (4), won the most tackles (6), and won the most duels (15). Those 15 duels won marked a league-high total for the season.

She was named NWSL Player of the Month in August, and her contributions have only grown from there. OL Reign again needed Rapinoe this week during a brutal three-game road stretch. First up was North Carolina, who had won five of their last six matches and scored 16 goals during that time. After the Reign went down in the 6th minute, Rapinoe unleashed a one-touch shot in the 11th minute that Courage goalkeeper Casey Murphy had to punch away. The ball fell to Rose Lavelle, who leveled the score.

Then, in the 26 minute, Rapinoe noticed that Murphy was high off her line as she lined up to take a free kick from far out. Instead of whipping a ball into the box for her teammates to fight for, Rapinoe opted to go for the near post herself. She slid the ball low through the two-person wall, which was shielding Murphy from seeing the strike come off Rapinoe’s foot. The shot caught the Courage goalkeeper cheating to her left and skipped into the net.

“I saw her [Murphy] off her line a little bit, so I thought I’d give it a try,” Rapinoe said casually after the match. “I just saw that she was up off her line quite a bit — I’ve seen that before and we saw that in film, so it’s just something that I had my eye on, and thought, ‘Why not?’”

One of the things that makes Rapinoe so dangerous is just how unpredictable she can be. She tries stuff and sees the game differently than most players, which makes her extremely hard to defend. Sometimes, those moments result in nothing. On rare occasions, Pinoe even gives the ball away in dangerous spots on the field. But as Rapinoe explained after that road win in Cary, there are added benefits of her “try stuff” approach.

“Even if something like that doesn’t come off, if we get another free kick it might back her up a couple yards — you know, playing those little mind games. I felt like it was worth a try, she was off her line enough, and I felt like I could squeeze it in there.”

This year, as Rapinoe continues in her unpredictable ways, great things have followed for OL Reign.

In the team’s mid-week match, Rapinoe got a well-earned rest to start the game. OL Reign struggled offensively in the first half without her, producing just 0.22 expected goals (xG) in the first 45 minutes. When the forward subbed on in the 56th minute, alongside Jess Fishlock, she immediately caused chaos. Rapinoe found a streaking Fishlock with a pass into the box, who drew some contact and earned a penalty. And there’s no other player you want to line up on the penalty spot than Rapinoe. She left no guesses with her attempt.

In her 34 minutes, Rapinoe had three shots, two chances created, and a goal. She also had 12 recoveries and won six duels and one tackle. Her game concluded with this extremely — ahem — cheeky play as the Reign tried to keep possession and close out the match with their 1-0 lead in place.

Fishlock was asked after if she knew Rapinoe was going to throw the ball off her back. With a laugh, she said, “I had no idea what she was doing until it hit me in the back. And then I started laughing because I knew exactly what she was doing. But that’s P. She does what she wants, but it’s always in a positive way and always super effective for us. I think if you spoke to anyone here, they’ll tell you how great it is to play with P.”

The Reign grabbed all nine points during this three-game road trip, and Rapinoe was a big reason the club was able to grit out three difficult wins over the course of eight days. While it might feel like a late surge from the 37-year-old forward, OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey said that she saw this spark from Rapinoe in preseason.

“We went on a preseason trip to Arizona the first week and I remember... there was just something a little bit different about her in the way that she was approaching everything,” Harvey said after the Gotham match. “We all know that Pinoe hasn’t got a lot of time left in her career — whatever she wants that to be will be on her. But I feel like this year, she’s really imparted herself on this team. I think she realizes that she has a really big role to play in pushing us over the line in games like these where it’s tight. It’s happened in multiple games of late, where she just comes up with something that can win the game.”

While Rapinoe didn’t notch an official goal or assist in OL Reign’s last match against Houston, it was her cross in the first half that led to Balcer’s opening goal — after Allysha Chapman bobbled the clearance as she saw Lavelle closing in.

A lot of people were talking about Rapinoe at the start of the season. Now, a lot of people are talking about Rapinoe again — but for much different reasons. The forward is playing some of the best soccer of her career, and people are finally starting to notice.

“Everyone will talk about her age and how old she is, but it doesn’t matter,” Harvey said. “She’s just performing at a level that is exceptional right now. She’s probably in a better form, honestly, than in 2019 — and that was wild. What she did in 2019 was phenomenal on the world stage, but I think she’s probably in as good of form, if not better, right now.”

Fans have one last chance to catch Rapinoe and OL Reign in the regular season this year. The Reign already qualified for the playoffs, but remain just one point away from the NWSL Shield with one match remaining. The Reign host the Orlando Pride next Saturday, October 1, at 7 PM PT. Tickets are still available for the match, but they are going quickly.

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