U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe has been in a race against time to make the Olympic team, which is expected to be announced next week. She tore her right ACL in a U.S. training session in Hawaii last December and is in camp but won’t play in Saturday’s pre-Olympic friendly against South Africa in Chicago (1 p.m. ET, FS1).
Rapinoe turned 31 on Tuesday and recently joined Manchester United’s Juan Mata as a global ambassador for StreetFootballWorld, a non-profit supporting social change through soccer. Rapinoe caught up with SI.com for a chat on a number of topics:
SI.com: Megan, you’ve been out with a knee injury since December. The Olympics start on August 3, and you are with the U.S. team in this current camp. Where are you in your recovery?
Rapinoe: Pretty close, actually. I’ve just gone back into training with my club team, the Seattle Reign. I’m basically doing everything except contact. People can’t tackle me, which is how I prefer it anyway (laughs). So I’m trying to work back in, and I feel pretty comfortable on the ball and moving around. I think I might actually be faster than I was before! I feel really good. I’m just at the tail end of the rehabilitation of feeling comfortable jumping in. I’m about seven months out, so kind of that time you start to ask yourself: Am I comfortable? Am I strong and confident? And then it’s about working yourself back in in the smartest and safest way possible.
U.S. Soccer in 2016: USMNT and USWNT year in photos
Klinsmann fired, replaced by Arena
Jurgen Klinsmann was fired after the USA's World Cup qualifying loss in Costa Rica, bringing an end to more than five years in charge. He was replaced by Bruce Arena, who returns to the bench after coaching the USA from 1998-2006.
USMNT vs. Costa Rica, November 15
The dejected faces on Bobby Wood, left, and John Brooks say it all, as the U.S. drops to 0-2-0 in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Hexagonal following a 4-0 loss and embarrassment at Costa Rica.
USWNT vs. Romania, November 13
Morgan Brian gets a congratulatory hug after her converted penalty kick, which helped the U.S. women close out 2016 with a 5-0 rout of Romania at StubHub Center in Carson, California.
USMNT vs. Mexico, November 11
Mexico players celebrate Rafa Marquez's late winner, which delivered a 2-1 triumph for El Tri over the USA to open the CONCACAF Hexagonal. It ended years of U.S. domination over Mexico in Columbus.
USWNT vs. Romania, November 10
Crystal Dunn congratulates Christen Press on one of her three goals as the USA handled Romania with ease, winning 8-1 at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California.
USWNT vs. Switzerland, October 23
Carli Lloyd gets a hearty welcome after scoring on a long-range blast to kick-start the U.S. in a 5-1 rout of Switzerland in Minneapolis.
USWNT vs. Switzerland, October 19
A new-look U.S. women's team routed Switzerland 4-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, with Samantha Mewis (3) at the center of the celebrations after scoring the final goal of four-goal second half.
USMNT vs. New Zealand, October 11
Julian Green is congratulated by captain Michael Bradley after scoring the opener, but the U.S. was forced to settle for a 1-1 draw vs. New Zealand in the last game before the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Hexagonal kicks off.
USMNT vs. Cuba, October 7
Chris Wondolowski scored a goal and assisted on another, as the USA continued World Cup qualifying preparations by beating Cuba 2-0 in a historic friendly in Havana.
USWNT vs. Netherlands, September 18
Carli Lloyd celebrates her goal that kicks off the scoring for the USA in a 3-1 win over the Netherlands at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
USWNT vs. Thailand, September 15
U.S. women's national team co-captain Carli Lloyd happily signs autographs after scoring a hat trick in a 9-0 romp over Thailand in Columbus, Ohio.
USWNT vs. Thailand, September 15
Megan Rapinoe kneels for the national anthem ahead of the U.S. women's national team's match vs. Thailand, continuing her public protest in line with that of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
USMNT vs. Trinidad & Tobago, September 6
Fabian Johnson, Christian Pulisic and Sacha Kljestan celebrate during a 4-0 win, which cemented the USA's place atop its World Cup qualifying group and a berth in the CONCACAF hexagonal.
Hope Solo's USWNT contract terminated
Following the USWNT's Olympic loss to Sweden, Hope Solo lashed out at the opposition, calling them "cowards" and drawing the ire of U.S. Soccer. The incident pushed the federation over the edge, and it terminated the goalkeeper's contract while suspending her six months–meaning any chance at reinstatement won't be possible until February.
USWNT vs. Sweden, August 12
The long and stunned faces say it all, as the U.S. women try to comprehend a penalty-kick loss to Sweden in the Olympic quarterfinals. The 4-3 PK defeat after a 1-1 draw marked the earliest ouster for the U.S. women in a major competition ever.
USWNT vs. Colombia, August 9
Hope Solo lets a Catalina Usme free kick slip through her hands and legs in a shocking 2-2 draw. The USA still won its Olympic group despite the slip-up.
USWNT vs. France, August 6
Carli Lloyd scores the only goal in a 1-0 win over a stout France side to punch the USA's ticket to the knockout stage at the Olympics.
USWNT vs. New Zealand, August 3
Carli Lloyd celebrates her goal in the USA's 2-0 win over New Zealand in their opening match of group play at the Olympics. Alex Morgan doubled the USA's lead in the second half.
USWNT vs. Costa Rica, July 22
Christen Press and Carli Lloyd celebrate an easy 4-0 win, which sent the U.S. on its way to Rio with an unbeaten record in 2016.
USWNT vs. South Africa, July 9
Hope Solo salutes the crowd after posting the 100th clean sheet of her career in a 1-0 win in Chicago. Crystal Dunn scored the lone goal.
USMNT vs. Colombia, June 25
For a second time at Copa America, the USA falls to Colombia, with Carlos Bacca's goal the difference in a 1-0 result in the third-place match in Arizona.
USMNT vs. Argentina, June 21
Lionel Messi converts an incredible free kick to punctuate a dominant performance for Argentina against the USA in the Copa America semifinals.
USMNT vs. Ecuador, June 16
Goal scorers Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes share a celebratory hug with Matt Besler in the Copa America quarterfinals, where the Americans held on for a 2-1 win and a place in the semis.
USMNT vs. Paraguay, June 11
Clint Dempsey celebrates his goal in a 1-0 win over Paraguay, which secured the USA's place in the Copa America knockout stage.
USMNT vs. Costa Rica, June 7
Bobby Wood caps a dominating first half for the USA in a must-win game vs. Costa Rica in Chicago at Copa America. Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Graham Zusi also scored.
USWNT vs. Japan, June 5
Co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn defends as the U.S. bounces back to shut out Japan 2-0 in a rain-shortened friendly in Cleveland.
USMNT vs. Colombia, June 3
James Rodriguez beats Brad Guzan from the penalty spot in Colombia's 2-0 win over the USA to open Copa America Centenario.
USWNT vs. Japan, June 2
Lindsey Horan heads the USA in front to cap a comeback from two goals down, but the Americans conceded in extra time to 10-woman Japan, settling for a 3-3 draw.
USMNT vs. Bolivia, May 29
Christian Pulisic scores his first international goal in the USA's 4-0 win over Bolivia in a final tune-up for Copa America. Gyasi Zardes scored twice, and John Brooks added one of his own in the triumph.
USMNT vs. Ecuador, May 25
Darlington Nagbe is hugged by Christian Pulisic after his 90th-minute volley delivers a 1-0 victory for the USA in a pre-Copa America friendly.
USMNT vs. Puerto Rico, May 22
Tim Ream scores the opening goal in the USA's 3-0 win over Puerto Rico in the first meeting between the two sides. Bobby Wood and Paul Arriola scored as well.
USWNT vs. Colombia, April 10
Julie Johnston, left, is mobbed after one of her two goals in a 3-0 USA win at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania.
USWNT vs. Colombia, April 6
Allie Long, left scores twice, and five other players score as well in a 7-0 rout of Colombia in East Hartford, Connecticut.
USMNT vs. Guatemala, March 29
Christian Pulisic, 17, makes his U.S. debut in a World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, becoming cap-tied to the USA. He was otherwise eligible for Croatia.
USMNT vs. Guatemala, March 29
Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore celebrate during a thorough 4-0 World Cup qualifying win, putting the USA's campaign back on track after the setback in Guatemala.
USMNT vs. Guatemala, March 25
There was no way through for DeAndre Yedlin and the USA during a 2-0 loss in Guatemala in what was a stunning setback in the Americans' World Cup qualifying campaign.
USWNT vs. Germany, March 9
The USWNT celebrates the inaugural SheBelieves Cup title after beating European powers England, France and Germany in succession.
USWNT vs. Germany, March 9
The U.S. celebrates Alex Morgan's equalizer vs. Germany in the SheBelieves Cup in Boca Raton, Florida. Samantha Mewis's winner a few minutes later cemented the Americans' overall triumph in the competition.
USWNT vs. France, March 6
Alex Morgan scores the game-winner in a 1-0 victory over France in the second game of the SheBelieves Cup in Nashville, Tennessee.
USWNT vs. England, March 3
Crystal Dunn is mobbed after her game-winning goal kicks off the SheBelieves Cup in a 1-0 triumph in Tampa Bay, Florida.
USWNT vs. Canada, February 21
Lindsey Horan celebrates her goal that helps the USA to a 2-0 win over Canada and a first-place finish in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying.
USWNT vs. Trinidad and Tobago, February 19
Alex Morgan celebrates one of her three goals that helped the U.S. clinch a berth in the 2016 Olympics after a 5-0 triumph in Houston.
USWNT vs. Puerto Rico, February 15
Crystal Dunn scores one of her five goals, tying a single-game U.S. record in a 10-0 rout to close group play in Olympic qualifying.
USWNT vs. Mexico, February 13
The U.S. needed a penalty kick from Carli Lloyd to beat Mexico 1-0 in the second match of CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament.
USWNT vs. Costa Rica, February 10
Alex Morgan scores the fastest goal in U.S. history, netting 12 seconds into the USWNT's Olympic qualifying campaign and sending the Americans on their way to a 5-0 win.
USMNT vs. Canada, February 5
Jozy Altidore heads in the winner to secure a 1-0 win over Canada at StubHub Center to cap the annual winter training camp.
USMNT vs. Iceland, January 31
Steve Birnbaum heads in a late winner in a 3-2 victory over Iceland in the opening match of the year.
USWNT vs. Ireland, January 23
17-year-old Mallory Pugh scores on her debut, helping cap a 5-0 win for the USA to open the year. Carli Lloyd led the way with a hat trick, and Alex Morgan scored as well in San Diego.
SI.com: What has U.S. coach Jill Ellis said to you about your chances of making this Olympic team and what it’s going to take?
Rapinoe: I think, bottom line, I have to be good enough to make the team. I have to bring something in and beat somebody else out, especially with a smaller roster for the Olympics. That’s the first thing. I think she understands I won’t be coming being the starter I was and being a 90-minute player. But if there’s some capacity I can come in off the bench and help that way and be fit and good for maybe 30 minutes or a half, I think she’s willing to work with me on that and be open to that. I have some skills that are unique to me that I think she rates, and she thinks if I’m at a certain level I can help the team in some capacity. It’s not just coming back for a friendly, it’s coming back for a major tournament.
SI.com: You hurt your knee last December on a practice field in Hawaii that several U.S. players found unacceptable. It was the same weekend as the friendly that was canceled over poor field conditions. Is there any bitterness or anger toward the federation over what happened?
Rapinoe: No. I don’t feel that. I think that maybe it made them think a little harder about where they put us. I think right when it happened the fact everyone asked me if I thought it was the turf or not—that’s unacceptable for that question to need to be asked. I think in a lot of ways, unfortunately, the lesson had to be learned at the expense of me. But there were a lot of lessons learned. It was an eye-opener for a lot of people.
I’m not bitter. I can’t say it was the only reason it happened. Maybe if I was on a perfect field it would have happened also. But maybe it wouldn’t. And that’s something we need to address going forward, and hopefully we won’t have to ask that question again.
SI.com: You’ve had this injury before, unfortunately. Has that helped with your recovery in any way?
Rapinoe: Tremendously, actually. This is the third time. It was my left knee kind of back-to-back in college. It’s helped me tremendously to know what to expect, to know what’s normal, what kind of pain is normal and what isn’t. To know what it’s like to be close to being back. Even from a mindset standpoint, it’s long. It takes forever, even with good medicine these days. The surgeons are so light with their touch, after two months you’re back walking around. For me to have that knowledge and the process being familiar to me, it’s enabled me to approach it in a more healthy way and keep myself sane. I can do my rehab and do some other things, have some creative outlets and take advantage of that and still know what I needed to do.
SI.com: When you look at this U.S. women’s national team since the World Cup, what are your impressions of what has changed and what’s similar?
Rapinoe: A lot of new faces, which is pretty cool to see. Obviously a lot of not only great players but big personalities aren’t with the team right now. I’m injured, Abby [Wambach] retired, Christie Rampone has been injured and not in camp. Shannon Boxx [retired], Lauren Holiday [retired], Amy Rodriguez [new mother], Sydney Leroux [pregnant]: Those are not only great players but big personalities.
So it’s been cool to see these last six to eight months the new players come in. And now you can see—I was in camp in Denver—they’re growing into their roles and taking on new responsibilities. Even the kind of “middle-aged” players on the team like Tobin [Heath] and Kelley [O’Hara] are taking on more responsibility, which has been pretty cool. And the team has been doing fantastic and playing well and starting to click in all facets of the game heading to Rio.
SI.com: There’s a crazy thing that no team that has ever won the Women’s World Cup has won the Olympic gold medal the following year. Do you have any idea why not? And do you think this U.S. team is capable of ending that streak?
Rapinoe: I think we are very capable of ending that streak. And I think it’s very understandable why it hasn’t happened. Because it’s really exhausting when you win the World Cup. There’s a lot that happens. A lot of good stuff, but sometimes you need to be in New York and you live in Seattle and you have to fly to the good stuff. Then you fly to the good stuff in L.A. And then there’s a photo shoot somewhere else (Editor's note: like SI!). So it’s hard. There’s a lot of attention, there’s a lot more to do, a lot of appearances. Just emotionally, as amazing as it is to win the World Cup, it’s emotionally draining in many ways. But having so many new players, that’s probably good for us not just to have more youth but just actually energy that a lot of us have spent this past year.
SI.com: The labor situation with U.S. Soccer continues. The complaint filed with the EEOC about wage discrimination compared to the men’s team got a ton of attention. It’s transcended soccer and even sports. You were one of the five players on that complaint. Where are we on that?
Rapinoe: Still in the thick of it, really. The EEOC, in terms of the complaint they handle it. And our contract, which is up at the end of the year, that still needs to be ironed out. So this recent court finding [that the CBA runs through the end of the year] can’t impact the Olympics, but it’s over in December, so we have to get a deal done. Those negotiations are still happening. Hopefully we can reach a deal that acceptable on both sides. We’d like to have it done sooner than later. It’s not optimal to have your contract run out for either side. Ideally, it would be best if we could come to an agreement soon.
SI.com: One thing we’ve seen in the Copa América and Euro 2016 TV coverage is more women being involved in the broadcasting of men’s soccer events, whether it’s Aly Wagner for Fox Sports or Kate Markgraf, Abby Wambach and Julie Foudy for ESPN. Would you be interested in doing that at some point?
Rapinoe: Hell yeah! I’m totally interested in it. I’ve always got opinions on everything. I really am interested. I think it’s very difficult and people don’t give enough credit to how hard it is to do in-game commentary. I’d have a lot of work to do, but I’d definitely be interested. I’m always interested in breaking down the game, and I’d love to see more females doing it. It’s amazing to see more companies like ESPN and Fox step out and have smart women doing this who can bring a lot to it.
SI.com: So tell me more about your global ambassador position with StreetFootballWorld. What’s it about?
Rapinoe: It’s a really cool organization that I’m psyched to work with. They’re an organization that essentially aims to make the world a better place through football, which oftentimes seems simple but isn’t. It tends to be very difficult. The cool thing they do is they work as a tool with local organizations that are already on the ground and already have intimate knowledge of the needs of the community and what really needs to happen. It’s often hard to just throw money at a problem when you don’t really know what the problem is.
So that was interesting for me. They work with all these local organizations that can actually effect change in those areas. I’m one of their ambassadors. Juan Mata is my male counterpart in this. Hopefully we can help bring them some big sponsorships to their programs and try to help them that way. Ideally, I’d like to bring the business that my sister and I have into it. We run our own clinics, but for us a big-picture goal would be to take it international and use our platform and message to team up with a local organization through StreetFootballWorld to do a clinic or series of clinics in South America or other places around the world.