A 90th-minute Megan Rapinoe corner kick led to a dramatic Lindsey Horan goal for the USWNT on Sunday night, forcing a 1-1 draw with Australia and keeping America unbeaten through the first two games of the Tournament of Nations—which are just some friendlies but nonetheless hold real importance as World Cup tune-ups for as long as a women’s Confederations Cup fails to exist.
The assist from Rapinoe couldn’t have been better, a perfectly placed ball into what was basically a mosh pit six yards out, where the goalie was blocked off from a clearance attempt but Horan was able to get on a head on it. This was Rapinoe’s eighth assist in her past six international games.
The fact that Rapinoe is continuing to create goal after goal at age 33, back from an ACL injury that severely limited her in the 2016 Olympics, is extremely good news for the USWNT. Improbably, Rapinoe might actually be playing her best soccer since 2012, and for a national team that has recently been light on technically gifted players and has at times shown a startling lack of offense, her resurgence less than a year before the World Cup is an answered prayer.
A healthy Rapinoe is still so good at the age when most athletes start declining, because her best moments typically aren’t all-out runs or mesmerizing dribbles. In fact, if you didn’t know better, you’d think she’s barely trying sometimes. But Rapinoe is a master of cooking defenses with minimal flair, like in this assist from April against Mexico:
Of course, like a smooth jump shot, set piece skills don’t really decline with age. With a stationary ball and 10 yards of space around her, Rapinoe remains one of the most dangerous women in the sport, as seen in this genius free-kick ball last month:
And also on this beauty:
Rapinoe has also spent her whole career developing some wonderful chemistry with Alex Morgan, one of the main beneficiaries of Rapinoe’s passing abilities. Obviously, it helps anyone’s assist totals to play on the left side of world-class goal-scorers like Morgan and Carli Lloyd. But the familiar image of a full-speed Rapinoe maneuvering a ball through the box and onto Morgan’s foot for a goal is a comforting one of the USWNT, and it’s this veteran duo who’ll be tasked with carrying the offense to glory in 2019.
France 2019 will almost certainly be Rapinoe’s final World Cup, at least as an on-field contributor. The only two USWNT players older than her are Carli Lloyd, the 36-year-old elder stateswoman who’s slowed down significantly since her prime, and Becky Sauerbrunn, whose position as a central defender is much more forgiving to the wear and tear of a career than Rapinoe’s as a creative winger. Women’s soccer has only seen more and more parity in the decade-plus since Rapinoe debuted for the USWNT, and this second era of sustained American success is clearly nearing its end. But despite the injuries and all the games played and the fact that she’s done it all before, Rapinoe is still hustling. Even on goals that require more athleticism than smarts, she’s still fucking got it.
In an ideal scenario for the USWNT, Rapinoe would be splitting her time in the build-up to the World Cup with a clear heir to her role as playmaker. But it’s still unclear who that would be—21-year-old Savannah McCaskill is an exciting possibility, but she’s not even on the Tournament of Nations roster. The American team, as Jill Ellis currently has it, will rely heavily on a healthy Rapinoe to create threats out of thin air and keep the offense from going stagnant in France. That’s a lot of pressure to carry in the final act of a career, but no one has proven they can handle adversity or high-stakes games better than Rapinoe. Good luck trying to replace her in 2020.