USWNT have ‘incredible ability to shoulder so much’

United States women’s national team veteran Megan Rapinoe acknowledged she was “emotionally exhausted” after the findings of Sally Yates’ report into systemic abuse in the National Women’s Soccer League but said it was nothing new to her or her teammates.

The independent investigation released on Monday revealed that player abuse within the NWSL was widespread and that league officials and governing body U.S. Soccer failed to adequately protect players.

It is far from the first time, however, that the team has been thrust into the spotlight for issues away from the action on the field.

“Like I said, as sick as this sounds, I feel like we’re used to having to take on so much more than game plan and tactics,” Rapinoe said Thursday ahead of the USWNT’s high-profile friendly against England at London’s Wembley Stadium.

“I feel like we have an incredible ability to shoulder so much.”

Notably, before and after their 2019 World Cup triumph, the team was locked in a battle with U.S. Soccer over securing equal pay.

“We’ve had to shoulder a lot on this team,” she added. “I think we have a lot of experience, particularly with the older group, whether it was the lawsuit or equal pay, or kneeling or whatever it may be.

“I think we have a bit of experience in that and that older players can help shield and shoulder a lot … whether it’s media attention or just kind of like, what we do, how to act.”

Rapinoe, as teammate Becky Sauerbrunn did earlier in the week, called for accountability for those the report found were complicit in covering up the abuse, notably Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson and Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whistler.

Paulson, who also owns the Portland Timbers of MLS, has announced he is removing himself from all decision-making related to the Thorns, and two leading executives have been relieved of their duties. Whistler, meanwhile, was removed as chairman by the Chicago club’s board of directors. Neither owner has given any indication that he plans to sell his team.

“Without accountability and the people specifically who did the wrong thing being gone, it just says to us that no one is really hearing us, Rapinoe said.

“So obviously the firings in Portland, we’ll see what happens with management, but I don’t think Merritt Paulson is fit to be an owner of that team, I don’t think [Whistler] is fit to be the owner of Chicago.

“And we need to see those people be gone so people who are fit and who will take care of the game and respect the game and help the game grow in the best way possible will replace them so we can continue to not only have accountability and continue to bolster the policies and everything around the league but help the league grow.”

The two-time World Cup winner continued to stress that there was little that surprised her in the report, calling out three coaches the report detailed as having abused players.

“Rory’s [Dames] been an a–hole for the entire time I’ve known him, from the first second I heard him on the sideline the first season I ever played.

“Paul’s [Riley] the same. I didn’t know Christy Holly personally, but everything I heard about him was horrible. I feel like we sort of know it, unfortunately we have a bit of practice, and I think we’re used to historically being spoken to in a negative way or condescending and that’s just something that we’ve had to overcome. “

Amid the seismic off-field events, focus has been taken away from the USWNT’s preparations for an occasion at a sold-out Wembley that Rapinoe described as “one of those special career moments that don’t come around very often.”

“I don’t think it should be like that, but [I’m] incredibly proud of the players globally in how we were able to take that on and continue to do our job,” Rapinoe said. “This week is a little bit harder to compartmentalize, for sure; I think the Yates report was just devastating in every single way.

“We always wish we never had to do this, we wish we never had to file a lawsuit or do any of the things that we’ve had to do that we’ve spoken about,” she continued.

“But it’s not the reality, so it’s something this team has always taken pride in and that we leave the game in a better place, and I think the game’s already in a better place following this report than it was the day before it came out.”

And, with a roster filled with fresher faces, the older heads are mindful of taking care of everyone in the group, whether it’s in dealing with the fallout from Yates’ investigation or navigating first caps.

“Probably as a younger player, you’re like, ‘What the f— is going on? How do I even deal with this?’ Rapinoe said.

“They can always look to us just as we could always look to our older players. I think it’s just us kind of understanding the vibe of the group and making sure that we’re checking in on everybody but also understanding we’re really excited to play. I think that’s a nice distraction.”

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