Megan Rapinoe, one last time in Seattle: Inside look at how OL Reign celebrated the final days of her career

Getty Images

SEATTLE– The folks at OL Reign knew this season would be their last with the pink-haired superstar Megan Rapinoe, and because of that, her teammates wanted to send her out the right way. Rapinoe announced her retirement in July. After 11 seasons with the Reign — first the Seattle Reign and now the OL Reign — Megan Rapinoe decided to call it a career. 

Since her announcement, she competed in her final Women’s World Cup and retired from the U.S. women’s national team. Although the end of her playing career approaches, there is still unfinished business. 

The fourth-seeded Reign (9-8-5) will host the fifth-seed Angel City FC (8-7-7) in the opening round of the 2023 NWSL playoffs Friday night at Lumen Field (10 p.m. ET | Paramount+ and for free on CBS Sports Golazo Network). Win or lose, this will be Rapinoe’s final match in front of Seattle fans. 

On Oct. 6, during her retirement celebration, the city of Seattle and the greater Pacific Northwest treated their star to a historic crowd of 34,130 — a new league record. Yet, the team hopes there is still more celebrating before the A.P. era (after Pinoe) begins. 

“What we all really want is we want to send her out in the right way. We want to send her out winning games,” OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey told CBS Sports earlier this month. 

A push for a championship is what the Reign strive for every year, but the three-time shield winners have never won an NWSL title. Rapinoe’s pending retirement is a huge motivation in the team’s desire to win it all this season. 

CBS Sports spent a little over a week shadowing the OL Reign ahead of Rapinoe’s celebration. Here is our inside look days before the ceremony as we focus into what drives this team ahead of the opening round of the 2023 NWSL playoffs. 

Wednesday, Sept. 27

The NWSL has had another historic year. All 12 clubs are mathematically in the playoff hunt ahead of the final week of play. The OL Reign are in the top six teams in the standings, putting them in playoff position. The team is training at Starfire Sports Complex, where the franchise played its home games in the inaugural NWSL season. 

Before the team hit the training pitch, the grounds crew and technical staff prepared the pitch. And on that rainy morning just south of Seattle, that meanst removing excess water. As the players made their way out from the main building, the final touches to perfecting the playing surface — including leaf blowers — were made. 

The players were in good spirits about the weather. After all, it’s fall in the Pacific Northwest. 

“I think it’s just kind of a reminder of who we are, our identity. So it’s been fun,” OL Reign captain Lauren “Lu” Barnes told CBS Sports after training. “I’m from California, so I can’t believe I said the rain is fun, but it feels good to be back out there.”  

Rapinoe joined her teammates for a few rounds of rondo, a keep-away drill, on the near side of the pitch. She rejoined the team from national team duties a few days ago after participating in a friendly against South Africa in Chicago. The U.S. won 2-0, and Rapinoe tallied an assist in what would be her final match for the national team

Getty Images

Instead of stepping away altogether, Rapinoe returned to her club team to participate in rondo drills in the rain as they tried to make a push for the playoffs. 

“The reason she is staying and not just retiring and [making] the U.S. game in our last one, which she could have quite easily done, is she cares. And I think she cares about this club, and she cares about this club being successful,” Laura Harvey told CBS Sports after training. 

“So because of that, we owe her that — to give that back to her and giving her everything we possibly can to send her off in the right way, which obviously for us would be to win the championship. And I think Oct. 6 is an opportunity for us, another stepping stone for us to get to that. So I hope that that’s what it looks like.” 

Barnes, who has also been with the Reign for 11 seasons, agreed with her coach.

“She’s broken so many boundaries, but I think you’re specifically here in Seattle,” Barnes said, specifically reflecting on Rapinoe’s outspoken support for the LGBTQ+ community and taking a knee with the Reign in support of Colin Kaepernick.

“She’s always said that at the end of the day — loves soccer, the most competitive person I’ve ever been around — but she wants to make this world a better place. And I think that’s what she’s done. I think the city here feels that, and she’s gonna feel back on the 6th, for sure.”

Sunday, Oct. 1 


Before taking on the Spirit and celebrating Rapinoe, the OL Reign faced the North Carolina Courage at Lumen Field in Downtown Seattle. The Courage held the fifth spot in the NWSL standings, and at the time sat just one point ahead of the OL Reign, the sixth and final team in playoff positioning with 14 days left until the Decision Day, the final day of the regular season. 

OL Reign got on the board first after Bethany Balcer headed home Rapinoe’s corner kick. The crowd of 10,000-plus fans roared with excitement as they did every time Rapinoe had the ball. The city knew what awaited on Oct. 6, and the crowd on hand provided a small taste of what was expected in a few days. 

The North Carolina Courage scored an equalizer and could have pulled ahead if not for a timely foul by defender Alana Cook. Although the foul resulted in a red card and sent Cook off for the remainder of the match, Harvey praised her defender for a job well done. 

“She arguably saved us two points,” Harvey said postgame to media after the 1-1 draw with the Courage. Harvey also commended her team for playing a defense-first style of football. “When you go down to 10, you have to make choices on something you’re willing to give up, and you can’t be really good at everything. I thought defensively, we were excellent in the second half. We dug in and did what we needed to do to see the game out.” 

The draw meant the Reign still had control over their own playoff destiny ahead of their final two regular-season matches (against Washington and on the road at Chicago). 

Monday, Oct. 2

It was another wet and rainy day at Starfire Training Facility. Rapinoe and others arrived around 9:30 a.m. local time. The roster was split with players who saw significant minutes against North Carolina remaining inside for recovery while the reserves and Cook, who was sent off at the end of the first half, braved the elements. 

Once the group on the pitch began their game of rondo, the staff informed CBS Sports that they had surpassed 27,000 tickets sold and were on pace to beat the NWSL attendance record set by the San Diego Wave last season. 

“It means a lot,” Bethany Balcer told CBS Sports after her film and recovery session. “We’ve drawn some really good crowds recently this year. I think the whole city should show up for this game because it’s Megan Rapinoe’s last home game in the city. I think that’s something everyone should rally around, and honestly, the crowd brings so much energy to the games. It pumps us up, and we love playing in front of Seattle.” 

Once Balcer and midfielder Quinn spoke to local media, Rapinoe made her way to the far side of the Starfire facilities for a sit-down interview with CBS. Her pink-colored hair was laid flat, swooped forward, and slightly to the right. She introduced herself to the production staff and embraced Natalie Morales of CBS Mornings before she sat in the makeup chair. 

After a quick touchup — Rapinoe opted for no lip color and instead used her own chapstick — she and Natalie took their places on an aluminum bench placed on the top landing of the bleachers in the first stadium the then-Seattle Reign played their home games. Other than their brief stint in Tacoma, the franchise and Rapinoe have called Starfire home for last better part of the last 11 NWSL seasons. 

The conversation between Rapinoe and Morales was easy, and it flowed well other than pauses to let a local train or airplane pass by. Everyone on set had a good laugh when both happened simultaneously, followed by a flock of birds. Rapinoe picked up where she left off each time, and elaborated on what would become her retirement talking points — topics and sound bites that proved to be the foundation of the numerous interviews she would sit for in the days to come. 

After over an hour on camera, Rapinoe made her way back to the indoor training facility. OL Reign media coordinator Ryan Perez went to Rapinoe and asked if she’d spend another few minutes talking to me. She looked up and waved me over. We began our interview walking back to the second floor, passing by an image of Rapinoe. 

Rapinoe joked about the weather because she does not necessarily share Lu’s love for the rain. 

“It’s been raining in my world for like a year straight … I’m looking forward to coming back in the summer,” Rapinoe told me. “It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth in the summertime.”

Most of what we discussed ran in a story ahead of her retirement match. How she’s balancing a retirement celebration in the middle of a playoff run, if she and Sue Bird will remain involved in Seattle (they will and Rapinoe emphasized looking forward to having a proper summer since her summer was spent braving the winter weather in Australia and New Zealand for the 2023 Women’s World Cup). 

We also spoke about the evolution of her activism and the importance of allyship. 

“Yeah, I mean, it takes a lot of education and listening. It’s easy to talk from your own perspective, but you need to be educated on other people’s perspectives so you can take care with what you’re saying,” Rapinoe said as we settled into our seats on the second-floor landing of the Starfire Sports Facility. “And I think that has always been something that I’ve put a lot of time and effort in knowing that because of my privilege, I’m going to be the one talking a lot about racial diversity, racial issues, or trans issues because people want to give my phone to me for you know, a lot of different reasons — some earned, some not, some just because I’m white.”

Rapinoe said she hopes all players, especially the younger generation, get comfortable speaking about their experiences. She also emphasized how important it was to take time to do research and learn from the communities you are advocating for. 

“Make sure that what you’re saying is actually in line with what that particular community needs and the messages that they need to put out. Otherwise, you’re just like walking all over and stepping in shit all the time.” 

Stepping into a mess has followed Rapione over the years, but it never stopped her, and others have watched and taken notice. 

Thursday, Oct. 5

After spending 10 days in Seattle in advance of Rapinoe’s retirement celebration, it became clear to me that Rapinoe’s impact extended well beyond the pitch and even the United States.

The magic of Rapinoe is her ability to be herself and, in doing so, empower others to explore their full selves. Some of her charisma is natural, but a lot of her ability to be herself in the face of criticism was learned and absorbed over time. And, as the popular Marianne Williamson quote goes, she has given other people permission to do the same by shining her own and shining it brightly. 

Because of her ability to do so beyond soccer, she has won fans from across the globe. Fans traveled from Mexico City and the United Kingdom to be in Seattle earlier this month. Through Rapione and the OL Reign, football fan Gen Williams found an invaluable community. 

“I come from a country where football is everything, everywhere, all the time. But … it’s hard to find your place in it,” Williams told me at Rough & Tumble Pub, a local women’s sports-focused bar on the eve of Rapinoe’s retirement celebration.

Williams first got wind of Rapinoe during her social media dust-up with former U.S. President Donald Trump. 

“I saw the video of her telling Trump where to stick it, and I was like, ‘she seems great. What does she do?’ Which is how I ended up watching the World Cup.” 

From there, Williams learned about Rapinoe’s club team. She also became a supporter of a women’s club back home. “And so, in one fell swoop, I fell for the Reign, Pinoe and the nicest people in the world who will support the Reign.”

Getty Images

That same community of Reign fans, specifically from the Royal Guard — an OL Reign Supporters Group —  reached out to local businesswoman Jen Barnes with the idea of a Pinoe Party. 

“We were super excited to do it, especially because there’s so many people coming from around the world for this game. And that’s the welcoming crowd. And then, not too long ago, the Reign reached out and asked if we would like to host a party with them. They had already come up with this great idea about how to celebrate Megan Rapinoe, specifically about how we all have experienced Megan.  How she’s affected us individually and collectively, especially with all of her work around Black Lives Matter, trans rights, LGBTQ+ rights, women’s equality, and equal pay.” 

Barnes agreed, and on Oct. 5, Rough & Tumble opened its door to fans wanting to send messages to Pinoe. They made signs and sent video messages on the throne provided by the OL Reign, and had fun dancing with other Rapinoe fans. Pink wigs were made available for the “Hair-itage” party, as it was called. 

“[The Reign] wanted to celebrate what I started calling the exclamation of her hair and make it about her heritage. What is the heritage that Megan is leaving behind at this point in her career?” It depends on who you ask, Barnes said. 

“I don’t think Rough & Tumble would exist without Megan. Because of what she and the rest of the U.S. women’s national team did in 2019.

“There was such a shift that happened after the 2019 World Cup. And Megan was such an immense part of it. And so without her and the rest of the team, I don’t think women’s sports would be getting the same level of appreciation and media coverage, and funding, and resourcing as it is now and without all of that, this wouldn’t have a place,” she added standing outside of her pub in one of the pink wigs.”

“I would like to say that one of the things that I rep Megan the hardest for is her support for the trans community. I find it disgusting that we are pretending there is anything dignified, or respectable, or justifiable in attacking an already marginalized community. I’m ashamed of my government back home for that. I am really proud that the person who has inspired me the most and has brought me the most richness in my life has wrapped that community along. May she continue to do so,” Williams told CBS Sports. 

Friday, Oct. 6

Getty Images

A record crowd of 34,130 fans showed up to celebrate the career and legacy of Rapinoe. Nike gave out posters and bouquets of flowers to fans who showed up and left a celebratory message for Rapinoe. Fans wore pink wigs in the stands, and the OL Reign orchestrated a visual message — “Thank You, Megan” — before kick-off. Buildings throughout the city were lit in “Pinoe Pink,” and the city ferries waved “Forever Rapinoe” flags. 

On the pitch, the OL Reign played to a scoreless draw against the Washington Spirit, meaning their playoff fate would have to wait until Decision Sunday. Rapinoe addressed the crowd during a short ceremony on the field. 

“It takes a lot to make me uncomfortable,” Rapinoe started, “Success.” 

Her fianceé Sue Bird, her mother Denise, and twin sister Rachel were among the family and friends on the field with her. “It’s been an amazing night; I just really appreciate it. And I hope to see all of you, at all the Reign home games, next year.” 

If Rapinoe was overwhelmed on the field, she didn’t show it in the postgame press conference. She and longtime OL Reign teammates Barnes and Jess Fishlock showed up in matching sunglasses. When asked if the draw put a damper on the celebration, the trio agreed it didn’t. 

“Would a win be better? Yes. But are we still alive? Yes. And is celebrating Megan probably equally as important as staying in the playoffs? Yes,” Fishlock said. 

Earlier in the day, the Together Production Company released a short video, The Last Supper, featuring the original Reign players having a meal together. Through laughs and tears, the trio shared how much Megan meant to their club and the city. 

It’s rare to have one player stay in the same market for over a decade, but to have three who’ve done it together alongside Laura Harvey is almost unheard of. While the night was a celebration, it was also an indictment on the support — or lack thereof — women’s sports receive. 

“I’ve been trying not to get emotional about it, but it’s hard when you think of what it means for the club having that many people here. It frustrates the hell out of me that it’s taking Pinoe retiring for that to happen because we’ve had her for 10 years,” Harvey told media. 

“But, I think it just shows people want to watch us play. They want to watch these players play and we have to capitalize on that. All of this means nothing if we don’t capitalize on it, and that is something that Pinoe has lived by. She wants to make the place that she’s part of a better place for now and the future.” 

Getty Images

Afterward: Oct. 19

Rapinoe and Harvey were again back at Lumen Field and still in a position to make a run for an NWSL title. The OL Reign had not won a playoff game since 2015, and if they wanted to send off Rapinoe — as Harvey told me during our chat at Spitfire Sports Complex — they would have to rewrite history against Angel City in the opening round of the playoffs. 

“Obviously, this is the most important game of the season. This is the only thing that we’re focused on.” 

Rapinoe confirmed she has thought about this being her final game at Lumen and potentially of her career. However, the make-or-break games are what she called “the whole point” of being a professional athlete. While Oct. 6 carried more of a celebratory vibe, Rapinoe was laser-focused on the eve of the Reign’s first playoff game. 

“For me, it’s mostly about performance and putting my best foot forward … whatever happens, happens,” Rapinoe said. “I’m just more focused on enjoying the game and enjoying this part of the season. We worked really hard and had to dig really deep this season to get to this point to host a playoff game.” 


The Reign advanced with a 3-0 victory over the Chicago Red Stars on Oct. 15. Rapinoe scored in the 47th and 50th minute. Fishlock scored the third goal in the 59th minute. The OL Reign earned the No. 4 seed and will host Angel City FC on Friday night. 

“[I’m] just realizing how special it is and how lucky I am to be in another meaningful game and not have the last time that I ever play just be friendly or in something that didn’t matter.” 

When we spoke to Rapinoe after her interview with Morales, she called the notion of retiring without winning an NWSL championship a “hurt heart space.” The OL Reign have had great teams and have been the regular-season champions three times. 

“That would, of course, be a perfect scripted ending,” Rapinoe said Thursday. “Of course, I want that, and that would mean a lot for the entirety of my whole career, but I try not to think of it like that and all at one time.” 

Rapinoe is focused on the task at hand, winning the day. Should the OL Reign take care of business Friday, they would take on the top-seeded San Diego Wave in the semifinals on Nov. 5 with a ticket to the championship game in San Diego at stake. 

The OL Reign told CBS Sports they have sold over 10,000 tickets and expect to have a big day as fans return to see Rapinoe one last time. 

One last time in the Emerald City. 

This post was originally published on this site