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Rapinoe Covers Spectrum of FIFA, Respect, Dutch on Women's World Cup Final Eve

Megan Rapinoe seems contractually obligated to never be bland, and she was in her element ahead of the USA's Women's World Cup final vs. the Netherlands, tackling all topics from the opponent to the game's bigger-picture issues.

DÉCINES-CHARPIEU, France — Most big-game press conferences are dreadfully dull. A humorless NFL coach barks out something about being “on to Indianapolis.” Or an athlete tries as hard as possible not to produce a bulletin-board quote for the upcoming opponent.

Megan Rapinoe, the U.S. left winger in every sense of the term, is basically the opposite of that. And so her press conference ahead of Sunday’s Women's World Cup final against the Netherlands (11 a.m. ET, FOX, Telemundo), had a little bit of everything. Laughter. Tears. Defiance. Excitement. Analysis. Singing.

The tears came when she was talking about her teammate Christen Press’s goal celebration honoring her late mother, Stacy, in the semifinal victory against England. The singing came when Rapinoe was asked about was needed globally for the women’s game to build on this tournament. (“Money, money, money, mon-ey, MON-EY!”)

The defiance came when the topic turned to the scheduling of two men’s continental finals, the Gold Cup and the Copa América being scheduled (with FIFA’s O.K.) on the same day as the once-every-four-years showpiece event in women’s soccer.

“That’s a terrible idea to put everything on the same day,” she said. “In every way. Obviously there’s two other finals going on, but this is the World Cup final. This is like, cancel everything day. So no, I don’t know how that happened. I heard somewhere they just didn’t think about it. Which is just, like, the problem. The World Cup final is set so far in advance that it’s unbelievable.”

There was more: Rapinoe did welcome the announcement by FIFA president Gianni Infantino that he would support an increase of $500 million in FIFA investment in women’s development. But she said his proposal to increase Women’s World Cup prize money from $30 million to $60 million wasn’t nearly good enough, especially since the gap between the men’s and women’s prize money continues to grow.

The laughter came regularly. FS1, which was showing the press conference live, probably wished it had a 10-second delay when Rapinoe started talking about her club team, Reign FC, taking down its archrival Portland Thorns Friday night. “Seattle Reign!” she yelled, arms upraised. “Me and Allie [Long, her club teammate] were talking so much s--t this morning. Very quiet from the Portland players, by the way.”

Rapinoe was every bit in her element. The excitement came when she talked about playing in her third Women's World Cup final on Sunday (“feeling like a kid in a candy store”), which she said she plans to be ready for from the start despite missing the semifinal with a hamstring issue. (As for Rose Lavelle’s hamstring concerns, U.S. coach Jill Ellis said nobody had been ruled out from playing Sunday.)

And then there was the analysis of the final itself. If it seemed like the discussion at the press conference was 90% about things other than the game itself, that would be true. But Rapinoe made it clear that she and her U.S. team have a deep respect for the Dutch.

“I don’t think you get to the final of a World Cup without being a fantastic team front to back," she said. "Being able to play multiple different ways, they’ve had a lion’s share of the ball in most games, and they’ve also had to just dig in and grind out wins. Some of them have come easily for them. Some of them have been difficult. That’s a sign of a very good team … And they’re the champions of Europe. We’ve seen first hand the last three games what it’s like to try to go through Europe like that. The quality is so high.”

Ellis had plenty to say about the Dutch, about their ability to play in a 4-3-3 like the U.S., the kind of formation that the Dutch players have been using “since age 5.” She expressed her concern about the set-piece goals the Netherlands have scored with regularity in this tournament, always from the deliveries of midfielder Sherida Spitse, and how the U.S. can’t afford to give them dead-ball opportunities near the goal.

But the fact was that this day was all about Megan Rapinoe, who seems contractually obligated to never be bland. In a tournament where she has been the dominant figure on and off the field, and on the eve of what could be the now-34-year-old's last World Cup game, Rapinoe continued to find ways to be larger than life.