BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) — Megan Rapinoe knows this is a different Olympics for her.
Forget about playing in every game and being a leader on the field. The attacking midfielder will have to find a way to contribute more with her words than her skills.
Rapinoe isn’t fully fit after undergoing surgery on her right knee and will be on the bench as the Olympic tournament kicks off on Wednesday. She arrived in Brazil already knowing she would have a limited role as the U.S. women’s team tries to win its fourth straight gold medal.
“Obviously I’m not going to be a 90-minute player in this tournament,” she told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “I’ll have to work my way back in. I think that getting into the knockout round I’ll be able to come off the bench and make an impact that way, being more of a role player.”
Rapinoe, who helped the U.S. win the gold at the 2012 London Games and clinch the World Cup title last year in Canada, hasn’t played with the U.S. since tearing her ACL in a training session in Hawaii before a scheduled World Cup victory tour match in December.
“I’ll be as ready I can possibly be, but with the understanding that it’s a different role than I’m used to, a different role than I had last year,” said the 31-year-old Rapinoe. “I don’t know how many minutes I’ll be able to play. There’s always an element you only get in the games and you only get from playing. Physically I feel good and I feel confident.”
There were doubts about whether coach Jill Ellis would include Rapinoe in the Olympic roster because of her fitness. The player’s addition to the team despite her lack of playing time came as a surprise to many.
“A big part of the selection is that she is a game-changer. And a game-changer can come in for 15 minutes and make a difference,” Ellis said. “Her and I had many conversations with the medical team, just in terms of how to use her in this tournament, and how we have to build her as the tournament evolves.”
Ellis said the coaching staff already knew ahead of the games that Rapinoe’s playing time would be limited, especially in the first few games. She said having Rapinoe on the team was important because of her “set-piece brilliance, her crossing” and her “specificity” in certain situations.
“The other thing that Megan brings is just this personality that puts people at easy,” Ellis said. “And this helps the teams as a whole, just to have a good balance and base in terms of dealing with pressure.”
Rapinoe said she has adapted quickly to her new role.
“I think there’s a lot I can bring off the field,” she said. “I’m one of the older players on this team, this is my fourth major championship, so I have quite a bit of experience. I think it’s a balance of giving what the team needs but also making sure that I’m getting what I need in coming back from this injury.”
One of Rapinoe’s replacements has been 18-year-old Mallory Pugh, who is making her debut in a major competition and is trying to take advantage of the veteran’s advices.
“Off the field she has been great,” Pugh said of Rapinoe. “She just brings this positive vibe to everyone. In the last World Cup I just watched her a lot and looked up to her in the way she played.”
The U.S. makes its tournament debut on Wednesday against New Zealand at the Mineirao Stadium in the southeast city of Belo Horizonte. The Americans then face France and Colombia in Group G of the 12-team competition.
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