1 of 6 | Veteran forward/midfielder Megan Rapinoe played her final international match for the United States Women's National Team on Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago. Photo by Alex Wroblewski/EPA-EFE
Sept. 25 (UPI) -- U.S. soccer icon Megan Rapinoe held back tears as she spoke about the on- and off-field battles of her career during a farewell speech after her final international appearance, a 2-0 win over South Africa.
Rapinoe spoke Sunday night at Soldier Field in Chicago. The 38-year-old forward/midfielder made 203 appearances during her run with the Americans, the 11th-most in team history.
"I feel like I've been able to grow up in front of all of you," Rapinoe said. "Obviously, we're here in Chicago, but there's so many fans around the country and around the world.
"When I think about what it means to me to represent, not only this team, but our country, it's just that. We're just a little snapshot of all of you."
Fellow U.S. soccer legend Alex Morgan assisted forward Trinity Rodman for the first goal in the 46th minute of Sunday's win.
Rapinoe sent in a corner kick, which led to the second goal, in the 49th minute of the match. The veteran hit that cross from the left side. The feed sailed from right to left, but was pushed out by South Africa goalie Andile Dlamini.
American winger Emily Sonnett then out-jumped defenders and headed a shot into the left side of the net.
Rapinoe nearly scored on a free kick from about 25 yards in the 52nd minute. The blast flew over the right side of the crossbar.
She was substituted out of in the 54th minute. She gave her captain's armband to Lindsey Horan before hugging the midfielder and several other teammates, including Morgan, Sonnett and Rodman. The crowd of more than 25,000 gave Rapinoe a standing ovation as she took a bow and walked off the field.
Rapinoe later took the microphone and stood near midfield to address her retirement and career. She referenced the team's fight for equal pay compared to men's soccer players, in addition to her role as an LGBTQ advocate.
"I think this team has always taken so much pride ... in showing up as our full selves," Rapinoe said. "I know how important that is to me. I know how important that is to this entire team.
"We have fought so hard on the field, had so much fun and been so successful, doing it underneath all of your guys' cheers. We have fought so hard off the field to continue to create more space for ourselves to be who we are, but hopefully, in turn, more space for you guys to be who you are."
Rapinoe made her national team debut in 2006. Her 63 goals rank 10th in team history. Her 73 assists are tied with Abby Wambach for the third-most in history, trailing only Mia Hamm (147) and Kristine Lilly (106).
Rapinoe won two World Cup titles and an Olympic gold medal with the Americans. She also earned the 2019 Ballon d'Or Feminin as the best female player in the world. And she was the winner of the Golden Ball (top player) and Golden Boot (top scorer) awards at the 2019 World Cup.
Rapinoe announced in July that she would retire from soccer after she completed the 2023 season with the OL Reign of the National Women's Soccer League.
"It has been such an honor to be able to wear this shirt and to play with all these amazing players and to just live out my childhood dream casually just like in front of the world," Rapinoe said. "Thank you so much for always loving on us and supporting on us ... and all of the things that we care about.
"I'm not going to like go away for ever. Don't worry. I'm one of you guys now. I'll be the biggest fan of this team."
Rapinoe also spoke about her career, advocacy and the growth of U.S. soccer at a news conference Saturday in Chicago. She hinted that she is not finished in her role as an advocate and ambassador for the game.
"I think we've been a big part of pushing talking about, whether its gay rights, racial justice, trans rights, more into every conversation around sports, particularly around women's sports," Rapinoe told reporters.
"We understand what it means to not have to sacrifice who you are and what that means for your play on the field. I'm incredibly proud of everything we've done on the field.
"We've been a really special generation of players. But I think it says a lot about us that everything on the field kinda pales in comparison to what we've achieved off the field."
Rapinoe, who is engaged to WNBA legend Sue Bird, said she is looking forward to spending time with her family, resting, traveling and being a part of the "growth of women's sports" after the end of the NWSL season.
The OL Reign will face the North Carolina Courage on Sunday at Lumen Field in Seattle.