LYON, France — The stadium was ready, the teams were ready and the fans were ready. What no one knew as kickoff approached on Tuesday at the Stade de Lyon was that Megan Rapinoe was not ready.
The reason, it turned out, was quite simple: Rapinoe had sustained a minor hamstring strain in the Americans’ quarterfinal victory over France on Friday, and she and the team’s coaches and training staff decided that, regardless the stakes of the game, she was not ready to take part in Tuesday’s semifinal against England.
“It’s just a minor hamstring — it’s not even really a strain, but not really able to go today,” Rapinoe said after the Americans held off England, 2-1, without her. “We just felt like it wasn’t going to hold up.”
[The United States defeated England, 2-1, to return to the World Cup final. Follow the match as it happened here.]
The decision to hold her out had drifted out just over an hour before the game, first in whispers and then in incredulous questions — “Wait, Rapinoe’s not playing?”
It has been quite a week for Rapinoe. It began with the emergence of a video clip in which she used an obscenity to say she and her team would not visit the White House if they won the World Cup. That caught the attention of President Trump, who criticized Rapinoe on Twitter, writing on Twitter that “Megan should WIN first before she TALKS!”
Rapinoe stood by her remarks a day later, and then posed in triumph after scoring once, then twice in a victory against host France. But what only the team knew was that she had sustained an injury late in that match, putting her availability for the semifinal in doubt.
Her place against England was taken by Christen Press, a wispy wing who promptly scored the game’s opening goal in the 10th minute. The change, and Press’s goal, seemed to validate the decision, and affirm what the Americans have been saying for months: they have so many great players available that it hardly matters which 11 Coach Jill Ellis runs out for a given game.
Already in this World Cup, she has sat a key defender (Becky Sauerbrunn, against Thailand) and a vital midfielder (Juliet Ertz, against Sweden) over what the team described as an abundance of caution to steer clear of minor injuries. Rapinoe said the decision on her not playing, despite the stakes of a World Cup semifinal, fit the same mold.
“We have been talking about the depth we have for months and months and months and all throughout the tournament, and it was on full display tonight,” she said. “We just felt that was the best option, not only for myself, but for the team.”
Rapinoe said the injury happened late in the Americans’ quarterfinal victory against France on Friday.
“It wasn’t like one moment where it cranked up or anything,” she said. “I was able to go 10 or 15 more minutes in the second half.”
But when it didn’t respond to treatment to anyone’s satisfaction, the decision was made to give her the day off. Ellis defended the team’s secrecy about the injury, saying it was strategic.
“There was an outside chance that Pinoe could take a penalty,” she said, using Rapinoe’s nickname. “So we didn’t want to extend ourselves more than we had to. Every coach wants to keep their cards as close to the chest as possible.”
So when the Americans ran out of the tunnel for warm-ups against England, Rapinoe was among the final players to emerge. She went through some of the warm-up jogging with the team, but once the other players started doing their drills with the ball, she peeled off on her own and stood near the sideline.
Later she moved to the top of the penalty area, watching shooting drills and standing with her arms folded across her chest. Periodically, she clapped encouragement for her teammates.
It may be the last game she misses. With England beaten, Rapinoe declared herself eager to play in the final. The Americans’ opponent will be determined Wednesday in the second semifinal between the Netherlands and Sweden.
“I’m expecting to be fit for the final,” Rapinoe said, “and ready to go.”