Megan Rapinoe: 'Why don't I live here?'

Former UP star excited to be back in Portland for U.S.-Canada friendly

On Tuesday afternoon, thousands of people gathered at Ronaldo Field at the Nike World Campus to watch the U.S. national team practice for its Thursday friendly against Canada at Jeld-Wen Field. Men, women and children circled the pitch, taking photos and applauding every aspect of the training session.

It very quickly became clear who the sweetheart of the U.S. team is in Portland.

'Do you know any of the players?' one middle-aged man asked a man in his 20s.

'I only know Megan Rapinoe,' the younger man said. 'Because of the hair.'

To be sure, the former Portland Pilots midfielder, and her bleached blonde, short, wood-elf style hair, stood out. Shouts of 'Megan' echoed throughout the sunny afternoon practice.

'Portland, not only UP but the city, is special,' Rapinoe said at the workout. 'My soccer memories here are packed crowds and people going crazy. It's such an amazing soccer town. I always have the best soccer memories coming back here.

'I don't get up here that much. My family lives in California, and it's hard to get back up here. Now that I'm up here I'm like, 'Why don't I live here?' I always think that. Every time I come back, I'm like, 'What am I doing not living here?' '

Long before her success in the 2011 World Cup, in which she scored a goal and had three assists, the 5-7 Rapinoe was lighting it up for the Pilots. Playing just three full seasons because of an ACL injury that cut her junior season short, Rapinoe scored 30 goals and collected 28 assists.

During her time at UP, playing on the national team was always in Rapinoe's crosshairs.

'That was always a dream of mine,' Rapinoe said. 'I got pulled in first with the national team after my freshman year. Then all of the injuries and everything like that. But (playing for the national team) was definitely always my vision and my goal and my sight for after Portland.'

On Sunday, Rapinoe caught an early flight to Portland from Kansas City, Kan., where the U.S. drew with Canada 1-1. The Pilots' 2-1 win over Oregon State was the first UP match Rapinoe has been to since her senior year in 2008.

'It was weird,' Rapinoe said. 'I definitely wanted to get back out there. It felt like home. For the most part, it looks totally the same. That same kind of feeling, that same kind of vibe. It's such a special place. Anybody who's been there and played there, whether you're a Pilot or not, knows that it's a special place and a special field. It was kind of surreal being back.'

Rapinoe's time in Portland this week will be even more special because her twin sister Rachael - also a former Pilot soccer player - flew into town Monday night.

'I'm super-pumped about that,' Megan said. 'She's living in Texas now and she's done with soccer, but she's really, really enjoying that. I think she loved it when she played, but she's ready to move on and do other things. But she's back for this game, which will be really special.'

Megan Rapinoe does want to use Thursday's exhibition at Jeld-Wen to help the U.S. prepare for the upcoming Olympic qualifiers. Mostly, though, she wants it to be a fun experience.

'Every time we step on the field, it's a chance to improve and work on things,' she said. 'But, really, this is a celebration. It's a celebration for us coming off the World Cup and also a celebration for the fans and everybody who watched and wasn't able to come to Germany. And just a fun, relaxed, energetic, kind of cool atmosphere for everyone to become involved. A lot of interaction with the crowd.'

The U.S. lost the World Cup final to Japan in a shootout - not the way Rapinoe wanted the tournament to end. Finishing the team's celebration tour in the city where she has played so many matches will be the perfect bookend.

'Coming back here and knowing that I played my college here and having a sense of my roots here is pretty cool,' she said. 'To be able to come back with this team, coming off this incredibly wild and crazy, emotional World Cup and to end it in a town like this that's near and dear to my heart is really special.'