An NWSL record single-game attendance of 34,130 fans turned out for Megan Rapinoe’s farewell OL Reign home match Friday.
Seattle said its goodbyes to a sporting legend as the Reign drew 0-0 with Washington Spirit to edge closer to securing a place in the playoffs.
After this result, the team is likely to need a result away to Chicago Red Stars next Sunday to seal a top-six finish.
The ticket sales for the celebration night at Lumen Field said much about how far professional women’s soccer has come in the Rapinoe era.
As The Messenger’s Alex Azzi pointed out on X, Friday night’s crowd was 14 times greater than the one that watched Rapinoe’s home debut in June 2013.
NWSL match attendance when Megan Rapinoe made her home debut for Seattle Reign FC on June 29, 2013:— Alex Azzi (@ByAlexAzzi) October 7, 2023
Many supporters wore pink wigs to show their appreciation for the Reign’s standout player of the last decade.
As with her recent U.S. national-team send-off, there were also banners in bright colours acknowledging her extraordinary impact on the game.
Before kick-off, a video of tribute messages was played out on the big screen, with NBA legend Magic Johnson, two-time Olympic gold medallist Mikaela Shiffrin and Seattle Mariners legend Ken Griffey Jr among those to feature, as well as members of Rapinoe’s family.
The video began with Billie Jean King praising the midfielder as “a legend and a leader”.
In an interview that aired at half-time on CBS, it was Rapinoe who was referencing King as one of the pre-eminent LGBTQ figures of modern times.
Asked by Natalie Morales if she had embraced the tag of ‘gay icon’, Rapinoe laughed at the question but could only concur.
“Yeah, I think so! I love being gay!” she replied.
“Seeing how much even just our team, and our sports, has changed and how many out athletes there are now, compared to when I first came out.
“I think it’s pretty amazing to be called a gay icon, with the Elton Johns and the Billie Jean Kings of this world. If that’s me, I’ll take it!”
Rapinoe had two shots saved by Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury in the second half, but Reign shot-stopper Claudia Dickey was busier in the closing stages to ensure the hosts earned a draw.
When the mic was passed to Rapinoe, she admitted she was uncharacteristically “lost for words” as she expressed the deepest gratitude to her team-mates past and present, club staff and the fans in Seattle.
“It’s been such an incredible journey. Reflecting myself on what it’s meant to play here and to be here. It just feels like home. It was always the safest place.
“This was just always the place where I could be myself.”
There’s still a small chance she gets one more game in Seattle before hanging up her boots, but the Reign are more likely to be on the road if they do make the playoffs.
So on a night titled ‘Forever Rapinoe’, this was the Emerald City’s chance to show its appreciation for the jewel in its sporting crown.
Turning out in their thousands, its people did her proud.