Rapinoe basks in post-World Cup attention

Hairstyle will stay, for now, as U.S. team preps for Olympics

Throughout the Women's World Cup, the U.S. national team captured the hearts of Americans, showing both the triumph and tragedy of sport with inspiring wins and a devastating final loss to Japan on penalty kicks.

Still, U.S. midfielder and former University of Portland star Megan Rapinoe was unsure of what to expect when the side came back home.

'We just didn't know what was waiting for us,' Rapinoe says. 'We went to New York City for two days, and we stepped off our bus and there were just hundreds of people lined up outside of our hotel. It was amazing.'

Though the U.S. came up just short, the reception was well-deserved for the U.S. team and especially for Rapinoe, who recorded three assists and one goal in the tournament, coming off the bench in every match except the final.

Two of Rapinoe's assists were breathtaking.

In the quarterfinals, the U.S. trailed Brazil 2-1 in the 122nd minute of extra time. A heartbeat away from an early exit, Rapinoe sent a cross to striker Abby Wambach, who headed in the goal. Then, in the final, Rapinoe passed to Alex Morgan, who scored the would-be match-winner.

'In the Brazil game, the cross was just one of the highlights of the tournament for everyone,' Rapinoe says. 'It was such a special moment for our team and for everybody watching and just for the World Cup in general. Personally, I'm proud of what I did in the World Cup.'

Another moment the 5-7 Rapinoe will long be remembered for is scoring a goal against Colombia - then running to the sidelines, grabbing a microphone and singing part of Bruce Springsteen's 'Born in the USA.'

'I am a Bruce Springsteen fan, for sure,' Rapinoe says. 'I love his music. One of my teammates, Lori Lindsey, gave me that idea. We were kind of brainstorming what would be funny or good for celebration. I mean, we had so much time on our hands when we were at the World Cup.

'I just had to go out there and execute it.'

Just as striking as Rapinoe's World Cup play was her bleached blonde, short pixie haircut.

Rapinoe's hair now has its own Facebook page and Twitter account, and had some describing her as 'a wood elf.'

'I did want to make a fashion statement,' Rapinoe says. 'I did it before we went. I just thought it would kind of be fun to switch it up. I flipped through a few magazines and thought, 'This looks pretty cool, maybe I'll try it.'

'It just kind of caught fire. It made me quite recognizable on the field. My mom actually said 'that was the best thing you ever did for yourself!' '

Rapinoe plans to keep her hairstyle, at least for a while.

'I'm still liking it,' she says. 'I'll keep it for a little bit longer, until I get sick of it. I'm not sure what I'm going to do next. I do like it dark, as well. So we'll see.'

Rapinoe and the U.S. players already have turned their attention away from the heartbreak of the World Cup and toward the 2012 Olympics in London.

'We're definitely thinking about it,' Rapinoe says. 'It's only 12 months away now, just one year. We're currently gold-medal holders, so we want to defend that gold medal and are pretty excited about the chance. It's nice to be able to rebound, and in just 12 months we'll have another chance to go for that gold again.'

Another goal for Rapinoe before the next World Cup is to help get the Women's Professional Soccer league off the ground. She was recently traded from the WPS Philadelphia Independence to the Boca Raton, Fla.-based magicJack, who are tied for third place as the six-team, relatively unknown league heads into its final month of the 2011 season.

'We'd love to be able to sustain the league,' Rapinoe says. 'We'd love to have more teams in the league, all across the nation, especially in the Northwest. It's a huge soccer area that has yet to be really tapped by women's soccer on the professional level. It is important to us.'

Rapinoe says she has noticed that the U.S. team's success in the World Cup has made an impact with fans.

'There have been three or four sellouts already, and the crowds have been really, really good,' she says.

Rapinoe believes that a professional league helps to raise the quality of the national team.

'There's a few players out there who are just late bloomers,' she says.

UP has produced a long line of women's national team players, notably Tiffeny Milbrett and Shannon MacMillan. Rapinoe does not yet classify herself with those two, but she is proud to continue the Pilots' soccer tradition.

'I'm extremely proud to have been a member of UP soccer,' Rapinoe says. 'The lineage we have is unbelievable. I haven't done anything quite yet compared to (Milbrett and MacMillan). They've got quite a few more caps than I do, and goals.'

On the short list for Rapinoe to be compared with the great UP national team players is bringing home a World Cup.

'As a footballer, that's the highest stage, that's the pinnacle, that's something that every single person who plays soccer wants,' she says. 'That's the shining moment in your career.'

While finally winning the World Cup is Rapinoe's goal, she understands just how much was accomplished this time around in coming so close.

'I'm devastated that we lost,' she says. 'But there's so many good things that we can take out of this to really, really be proud of.

'I wouldn't say that this World Cup is a disappointment. We did something incredibly special.'