In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Megan Rapinoe revealed that she is still non-contact in her ACL recovery with less than one month to go until the United States’ first Olympic group stage game against New Zealand on August 3.
Rapinoe tore her ACL in December of last year during practice for a USWNT friendly in Hawaii that was ultimately cancelled over bad field conditions.
She told SI that while she is training with her club, the Seattle Reign, she is non-contact during practice. She won’t be playing in the WNT’s friendly against South Africa on July 9 either.
That begs the question: is a player who is still non-contact and can’t even manage limited minutes with four weeks to go until the opening game in the United States’ Olympic run really a good prospect for a very limited 18-player roster? We’ve discussed the team’s midfield needs, and the WNT has a good option on the left in Tobin Heath, but Rapinoe also has her own valuable skillset as a left winger and probably edges Heath in the value of her crossing ability from the left.
With midfield locks looking like Carli Lloyd, Morgan Brian, Lindsey Horan, and Tobin Heath, that leaves Rapinoe, Samantha Mewis, Heather O’Reilly, and Allie Long fighting over the last two mid spots. Lloyd, Brian, and Horan all operate centrally, leaving behind a need for some wingers to help out, assuming Ellis doesn’t just fill those needs with forwards like Crystal Dunn and Mallory Pugh. But Heath has been holding down the left pretty well, and Rapinoe probably wouldn’t best serve the team switching out to the right, especially not when Heather O’Reilly exists. (All of these names should be a reminder that the WNT has functioned just fine without Rapinoe for most of 2016 - which is not to say that she wouldn’t have made them better with her presence, but she’s not THE vital important piece required to unlock the WNT midfield.)
If Rapinoe doesn’t go, then does that open up a spot for a player like Sam Mewis, who would probably end up serving as a backup to Morgan Brian? If Rapinoe does come along and sits on the bench for group stage in the hopes she’ll contribute during knockout, is that preferable to bringing a healthy sub who can be used all throughout group? Is it worth it to risk putting a player who isn’t quite completely healthy on the field and may get injured again?
Perhaps Jill Ellis is just being extremely cautious, wanting to limit opportunities for Rapinoe to re-injure herself. Indeed, Rapinoe may get time in the WNT’s Olympic sendoff game on July 22 against Costa Rica.
But every day that creeps closer to that August 3 game is another day that Rapinoe can’t fully engage in practice with her team or experience true, 90-minute, 11-v-11 conditions. She’ll barely have one game with the WNT to get back into the swing of things, if she plays at all. It’s a testament to how highly Ellis values her that she still looks likely to make the Olympic roster despite still not being 100% this close to the start of the games. But with plenty of midfield options to mix and match with the forwards, perhaps it would be better for the team and Rapinoe’s own health to admit she’s just not ready.