Bottles Down, Cleats On: U.S. Soccer Team Takes Its Joy on the Road

Rapinoe, who became an iconic figure during the World Cup because of her sterling play, her post-goal bravado and her unexpected role as presidential foil, was not expected to play against Ireland. She has been nursing a leg injury for several weeks — “I have pain when I run,” she said — while attending to the business of global stardom. She appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” She signed a book deal. She developed an unhealthy appetite for private air travel. (“It’s ruined me forever,” she said recently.)

But beyond all that, she appears to be savoring her sabbatical from competitive soccer. She earned it. She also knows it will not last forever.

“I honestly don’t know how everyone else is playing,” she said of the teammates taking the field against Ireland. “I think they’re probably a little jealous.”

Not all of them. In the wake of the World Cup, forward Christen Press said she was depleted. There had been so much buildup, then it was over. She got away for a bit — she went to the beach — but before long, she felt the lure of the game in a different way. When she rejoined her club team, Utah Royals F.C. of the National Women’s Soccer League, she said she felt almost liberated.

“When you’re playing in a World Cup, you fill a role and your strategy is so clear and you don’t think of yourself — you just think of the team,” she said. “So it was actually nice to just practice and worry about getting better and allow myself to say, ‘I can just have fun today, and that’s O.K.’”

Like almost a dozen of her teammates, Press also was a member of the United States team that won the 2015 World Cup. This championship run felt more meaningful, more momentous, she said. Press recalled how, in 2015, she came away “shocked” that people even cared that the team had won. This time, as the players championed equal pay and gender equality at the tournament, they knew the spotlight was on them. They also recognized that it was incumbent upon them to perform — and perform well — to bolster their arguments and move those conversations forward.

“We worked so hard from 2015 to 2019 to set ourselves up to be in a different position in terms of the cultural impact that we could have,” Press said, adding: “We weren’t just playing for soccer or for ourselves or for the World Cup, which is the dream of every single player in the world. We were actually playing for cultural change and for women everywhere.”