LYON, France — It was late Sunday night, moments after the United States women’s soccer team had clinched its second consecutive World Cup title, and Coach Jill Ellis was trying to articulate how Megan Rapinoe, her star left wing, had taken the monthlong tournament and made it her personal performance stage.
“Megan was built for this,” Ellis said, shaking her head while sitting inside a news conference room at the Stade de Lyon, “built for these moments, built to be a spokeswoman for others.”
Rapinoe was meant to be sitting beside her coach, but she was running late after being randomly selected for a postgame doping test. In her absence, Ellis showered her with praise: about her eloquence, about her honesty, about how women’s soccer needed players like her.
“The bigger the spotlight, the more she shines,” Ellis said. “I think spotlights can burn people, but for Megan, it just highlights who she is.”
Two minutes later, Rapinoe burst out of a door, a gold medal dangling around her neck. The energy in the room shifted.
“Hey!” Rapinoe said, mugging for the audience. “I just killed doping, if anyone is concerned.”
Ellis and the assembled reporters laughed at what was the perfect entrance, in a way, for Rapinoe. The coach happily got up and left, letting her player handle the rest.
Rapinoe had already done it all for the American women on the field, scoring six goals en route to being named the top player at the tournament.
But she did much more than that: charming fans with her waggish personality and utter lack of a rhetorical filter; drawing the ire of the president of the United States on social media; antagonizing officials in FIFA and her own federation, both of whom she has deemed not sufficiently interested in helping the women’s game grow.