Megan Rapinoe celebrates her fourth-minute goal. (Michael Chow – USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
PARIS — It’s been quite a week for Megan Rapinoe, who seemingly has been the calm center of the storm for the United States.
Let us count the ways:
On Tuesday, an old video surfaced of her saying that she wouldn’t visit the White House for a victory celebration if the Americans won the World Cup.
On Wednesday, President Trump criticized the U.S. captain in a series of sweets.
On Thursday, Rapinoe responded, doubling down on what she had said.
And on Friday, the veteran midfielder made a statement and then some, tallying both goals in the Americans’ 2-1 Women’s World Cup win over France at a raucous Parc des Princes before 45,595 enthusiastic fans.
The Americans will meet England, 3-0 winners over Norway in its quarterfinal match, in the semifinals in Lyon Tuesday. The defending champions and top-ranked women’s side in the world have never missed reaching a semifinal in all eight World Cups.
The French? They still haven’t found a way to overcome their quarterfinal jinx. Including this match, they have exited in Euro 2013 (loss to Demark on penalty kicks), the 2015 WWC (defeat to Germany on penalties) and Euro 2017 (1-0 loss to England).
The hosts can thank Rapinoe for that as she rose to the occasion again. She has scored the USA’s last four goals.
“She’s just a big personality, both on and off the pitch,” USA head coach Jill Ellis said. “I think she honestly thrives in these moments. “There’s a never-say-die attitude. She loves and lives for those moments. She’s a big-time player and the more she is going to respond. She was fantastic tonight.”
So was the atmosphere at the stadium as the home supporters outnumbered a pretty decent turnout of 10,000 American fans by a 3-to-1 margin.
“It’s everything you want,” said Rapinoe, who has scored the USA’s last four goals. “We’re not at a home World Cup, so it was a healhty, hostile crowd. Our fans were amazing. They screamed their hearts out. It was unbelievable. There was so much energy in the stadium tonight.”
The USA quieted the partisan crowd, at least for a while after France defender Griedge Mbock Bathy fouled forward Alex Morgan just to the left of the penalty area in the fourth minute. The foul was severe enough for referee Kateryna Monzul (Ukraine) to assess the French player a yellow card.
On the ensuing free kick, Rapinoe sent the ball that somehow found its way through a maze of players and through the legs of Eugenie Le Sommer and eventually past goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi and into the right side of the net.
It was Rapinoe’s third consecutive goal for the Americans, all off set pieces. She fired home two penalty kicks in the 2-1 win over Spain in the Round of 16.
The USA acquitted itself well on the other end of the field, absorbing French pressure without giving up anything dangerous.
French forward Diani Kadidiatou made life as miserable as she could for U.S. left back Crystal Dunn of Rockville Centre, N.Y. on the right flank. Giving away four inches and several pounds, Dunn did all she could to contain her foe.
Many of France’s shots were blocked by someone on the back four. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher did not have to make save in the opening 45 minutes.
The second half was punctuated by a save of French attacks that the Americans managed to thwart, whether it was through blocked shots, wayward shooting or quick clearances from the penalty area.
Naeher made her first save in the 64th minute as she denied Valerie Gauvin’s header at the left post.
Only a minute later, Rapinoe gave the USA some breathing room. Tobin Heath latched onto a ball on the right wing. It appeared her low cross had missed Sam Mewis, but an open Rapinoe had no trouble slotting it home from eight yards on the left side for a two-goal advantage.
The goal was certainly needed because center back Wendie Renard headed home a free kick from the left side from five yards to slice the margin to one in the 81st minute.