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Rapinoe’s farewell sets NWSL attendance record

Retiring star Megan Rapinoe was honored by club team OL Reign on Friday night in front of a National Women’s Soccer League-record crowd of 34,130 fans, many of whom wore pink wigs in her honor.

With her family and fiancée Sue Bird looking on, Rapinoe started for the Reign in a scoreless draw against the Washington Spirit. Lumen Field’s public address system played “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” when she took to the field with her teammates.

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“I do know my impact but it’s one thing to know it, and another thing to really feel it and see it,” Rapinoe said. “To see some of the signs and the pink wigs and see what that means to people.

“It’s hard to put just this deep sense of gratitude and joy and thankfulness for being able to have a moment like this into words.”

Rapinoe had already played her final match with the United States women’s national team last month in Chicago, but Friday marked her final regular-season home game for the Reign.

“I don’t ever think we took it for granted our 11 years here one bit. I think that’s how Pinoe lives, she lives with this joy, she lives for those moments, and she really pushes us to also do that,” teammate Lauren Barnes said. “I think it’s undeniable the positive impact she’s had.”

A video played before the match included well-wishes from such luminaries as Abby Wambach, Ken Griffey Jr. and Magic Johnson.

Rapinoe has played in 114 regular-season games for the Reign and scored 49 goals. Her club career isn’t quite over: Next week the Reign wrap up the season on the road against the Chicago Red Stars.

And there’s a possibility the Reign make the playoffs. With Racing Louisville’s 3-2 victory over the Orlando Pride earlier Friday, the Reign moved into sixth place in the standings, just above the playoff line.

Rapinoe announced before this summer’s Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand hat she was stepping away from the game after an illustrious career that included two World Cup titles, an Olympic gold medal and an Olympic bronze.

At the 2019 World Cup in France, Rapinoe scored six goals, including a penalty in the final against the Netherlands. Her victory pose with arms outstretched became one of the iconic images of the dominant U.S. run.

She claimed the tournament’s Golden Boot and the Golden Ball for the best overall player, and later that year was named the Best FIFA Women’s Player and won the prestigious Ballon d’Or.

She has been with the Reign since 2013 and is one of just five players leaguewide who have remained with the same team since the NWSL’s launch.

Commissioner Jessica Berman hopes Rapinoe will continue to play a role in the league.

“It’s hard to put into words the impact she’s had on the game, both on the pitch and off the pitch. She has embodied courage and bravery in a way that I don’t know many athletes have done,” Berman said. “And she’s really embraced her role with her full authentic self.”

Rapinoe is also known for her social justice activism. She led the national team’s long fight for equal pay with the men’s national team, which started with an EEOC complaint in 2016. It was finally resolved last year, when both teams reached contracts with U.S. Soccer that paid them equally and split tournament prize money.

Among the first prominent athletes to publicly come out, Rapinoe has been outspoken about LGBTQIA+ issues. She has also advocated for racial equity and was among those who knelt in solidarity with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“That’s what really matters,” Rapinoe said. “Of course we love playing, we want to make the league better in every possible way that we can. But it’s a game at the end of the day and it’s something that we get to use to what I feel the point of life is: To use what you have to better yourself and make people better around you and leave things in a better place than where you found them.

“To me that’s the whole point and that’s what I take most pride in.”

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