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GLASGOW, Scotland -- It was the soccer equivalent of calling her shot. Or at the very least, her T.O. moment.
Seconds after scoring the first goal in a 3-0 win over Colombia -- a cannon from outside the box and over the goalkeeper's head -- U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe reached into her right sock and pulled out a long slip of white paper with a message written on it in black marker. As she ran toward the far sideline, she held it up for the U.S. fans, TV cameras and, hopefully, its intended recipient to see.
On the paper, she had written the words, "Happy B-day, Kreigy! We love you!"
|Megan Rapinoe tallied a goal and an assist as the U.S. women's soccer team improved to 2-0 in the London Games.|
"Before the game, our strength coach told me it was Ali's birthday, so it was an ode to her," Rapinoe said of defender Ali Krieger, a shoo-in to make the Olympic team until she suffered a torn right ACL and MCL in an Olympic qualifying match in January. Saturday, Rapinoe learned, was Krieger's golden birthday: 28 on the 28th day of the month.
"She would be here if she was healthy, and I'm sure it's hard for her to watch from home," Rapinoe said. "I wanted to do something special for her."
Special, yes. Correct spelling, no (but we'll get to that later). But while she's known for her enthusiastic, impromptu goal celebrations -- like singing "Born in the USA" into a sideline microphone during the Colombia game of the 2011 World Cup -- it's hard to imagine Rapinoe possessing the confidence to do something so brazen as to plan a goal celebration hours before stepping onto the field.
"I don't know if I'm in the zone, but I'm feeling good," Rapinoe said after the match. "I had a lot of space today. I could get the ball and be aggressive. I feel really, really confident."
This is a different Megan Rapinoe than the on-again, off-again player from earlier this year. She's not only confident. She's relaxed, dangerous and a delight to watch with the ball. Her teammates call her Pino, perhaps because, like red wine, she's getting better by the day.
"It's all about her consistency," goaltender Hope Solo said. "She's always had the talent, but she's been up and down. With maturity and experience, she has been bringing it every day and that is hard to do. It was a process. It slowly started to come where she'd play great one half and disappear in the second half. And now she is there, scoring goals, providing assistance on goals, on corners, great set pieces. She's a real weapon for us."
She makes good decisions and she had a huge impact in the game. She has had two good games. Hopefully it stays like that.” -- U.S. coach Pia Sundhage on midfielder Megan Rapinoe
So much so that after Saturday night's game, head coach Pia Sundhage said she hopes to see Rapinoe become even more involved over the course of this tournament.
"Had we been finding her more often on the left side, I think we would have had a better game in the first half," Sundhage said. "She makes good decisions and she had a huge impact in the game. She has had two good games. Hopefully it stays like that."
What's fueling the change? Is it her status as a starter? Her recent nose for the net?
"All of that," Rapinoe said. "I struggled a lot this year not getting playing time and being frustrated. Some players play better when they're frustrated. They have that edge. I am a happy person when I can smile, have fun, enjoy playing, and that is happening out here right now. I feel like I'm contributing and playing well and everybody has confidence in me. That confidence is bouncing back off them onto me."
And it's contagious. "Right now, she is in a good place and she is happy and that's good for the team," Sundhage said. "She has earned a spot because of all players; she takes a lot of chances. She looks dangerous. And she's special."
Her absent teammate would likely agree with that assessment. According to Twitter, Rapinoe's birthday message was delivered.
"Wow. knock me off my feet and make me cry why don't u! @mPinoe I have the best teammates in the world, thank u for makin my bday so special!" Krieger posted to Twitter. But did she notice that Rapinoe misspelled her last name in the note? Did Rapinoe realize her error?
"Ha! No," Rapinoe said after the game. "How did I spell it? Did I swap the I and the E? That's how it's spelled in my phone even! Well I guess that's just how I spell it."
Even mistakes Rapinoe is making with confidence and a smile.