Soccer

USWNT star Megan Rapinoe will be obvious choice for Sportsperson of Year

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USATSI

USWNT star Megan Rapinoe will be obvious choice for Sportsperson of Year

Ten days into the second half of 2019, we already have a leader for Sportsperson of the Year, an award presented by a variety of media outlets, the most visible being the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award given by Sports Illustrated.

It is a rare sports honor insofar as it is designed to reward impact beyond mere athletic feats. The Golden State Warriors, back-to-back NBA champs willing to exercise social conscience, earned the distinction in 2018. The year before, Houston Astros star Jose Altuve and Houston Texans star J.J. Watt were honored excelling on the field and also their contributions to disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Here in 2019, Megan Rapinoe is blowing away the field.

After invading foreign soil and dominating the best of international competition, the United States Women’s National Team returned home to the classic America experience of adoration and derision. The most passionate reaction, both ways, is reserved for Rapinoe, the co-captain and team leader who has been subjected to the centuries-old tradition reserved for women who see injustice and inequality and dare to push back.

She’s the lesbian agitator that, you know, keeps getting political, bringing up such matters as social inequality based on race, sex and ethnicity, as well as pay inequality for women.

Rapinoe was crusading again Wednesday, addressing a crowd of tens of thousands in New York City after she and her teammates were celebrated with a parade down Broadway. She said things people need to hear, the kind of comments that have resulted in her being described as a “polarizing” personality.

“We have to be better,” Rapinoe implored. “We have to love more, hate less. We’ve got to listen more and talk less. We’ve got to know that this is everybody’s responsibility. Every single person here. Every single person who is not here. Every single person who doesn’t want to be here. Every single person who agrees and doesn’t agree. It’s our responsibility to make the world a better place.”

Yet there are Americans who claimed not to root for the American soccer team because of Rapinoe, who spares no one in her expressed pursuits. She is another in an expanding list of high-profile athletes making it abundantly clear that she would not accept an invitation to the White House from President Donald Trump.

Rapinoe has made clear that she can’t accept the man’s agenda, both implicit as well as explicit, and reiterated as much Tuesday in an interview CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

“Your message is excluding people,” she said. “You're excluding me, you're excluding people that look like me, you're excluding people of color, you're excluding Americans that maybe support you.”

She pointed out that the Trump agenda -- identified by the MAGA acronym -- is a call to return to a time in America when racial, ethnic and sexual and discrimination was legislated.

“It might have been great for a few people, and maybe America is great for a few people right now,” she said. “But it's not great for enough Americans in this world," she said.

"You have an incredible responsibility as the chief of this country to take care of every single person, and you need to do better for everyone.”

Women who so brazenly challenge men of power tend to receive the figurative backhand. Go away. The president’s response last week to Rapinoe’s vow to not visit the Trump White House amounted to “Shut up and win.”

They did win, posting a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in the final on Sunday for their second consecutive World Cup victory. They received a standing ovation from the crowd in Lyon, France. Rapinoe, who led the way, received the Golden Ball award (best player) and the Golden Boot award (top scorer).

But Rapinoe will not shut up. Neither will her teammates; Alex Morgan, the Silver Boot award winner who, like Rapinoe, donates a portion of her earnings to soccer-related charities, said in May that she wouldn’t accept an invitation from the Trump White House.

Upon returning home, the national team should be held up as role models for humanity as well as ambassadors for a sport and a country. They shouldn’t have to tolerate disdain from the far-right, often the first to chant “U-S-A, U-S-A,” after American success on a global stage.

[RELATED: Steph Curry congratulates USWNT on World Cup victory]

Rapinoe is here to win soccer games while reminding us of how much work we have to do.

“This country was founded on a lot of good ideals,” she said recently. “But it was also founded on slavery. We just need to be really honest about that and be really open about talking about that.”

If Ali were alive, he’d be honored to present any award, much less one named for his commitment to social activism, to Rapinoe.

Pep Guardiola oddly defiant after Manchester City loss to Liverpool FC

Pep Guardiola oddly defiant after Manchester City loss to Liverpool FC

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola seemed primed to go off Sunday.

His squad lost 3-1 to English Premier League-leading Liverpool at Anfield, and the reigning champions fell behind early following a disputed decision.

Bernardo Silva's pass intended for Raheem Sterling in the box instead hit Liverpool right back Trent Alexander-Arnold's outstretched arm, leading to the Reds' counter-attack that Fabinho capitalized on with an outside-the-box screamer.

Guardiola took issue with the call, and another handball much later in the match. Both appeared to be on his mind when he, uh, passionately thanked the referees after the match.

But the Spaniard insisted during his post-match interview with Sky Sports that he was not being sarcastic with the officials.

"No way," Guardiola told Sky Sports. "I congratulated them. I'm so polite. I didn't say anything here [either]."

Indeed, in Guardiola's interview and post-match press conference with reporters, he didn't take the bait when asked about Alexander-Arnold's handball, which VAR subsequently upheld as not a foul on a check of the goal. Guardiola told Sky Sports to "ask the referees" about the decisions and instead focused on his own team's performance.

"We tried to do our job," Guardiola said. "I would like to talk about our performance, it was so good. So, I know when teams come here and the way they play [with respect for] Anfield, and from the opening, with the problems we have in the squad, the way we played was awesome. One of the best performances we have played. We played in the way, the reason we are back-to-back champions. That is the point.

"At the end, there's still seven months, and if Liverpool win, I will be the first to congratulate them because we cannot deny how good they are."

Guardiola's side trailed 2-0 at halftime, despite controlling possession and out-shooting Liverpool in the first half. But the Reds were clinical, scoring on each of their first two shots of the match. 

Liverpool's first-half performance reminded Guardiola of Manchester City's UEFA Champions League quarterfinal loss at Anfield two seasons ago, when the Cityzens dug a 3-0 first-half hole in the first leg at Anfield. Guardiola was happier with his squad Sunday, pointing to City's various injuries as Leroy Sané, Aymeric Laporte and Oleksandr Zinchenko all have missed significant time this season.

"What happened today, we showed why we are the champions," Guardiola said. "In this stadium, the way we played was incredible. So, I'm so proud of my team more than ever. [An] incredible performance in this stadium against the strongest team in Europe, and the way we played ... I am so proud. So proud. We played so good."

[RELATED: USMNT star Pulisic scores again for Chelsea but injures hip]

Perhaps Guardiola was just trying to be positive following some very visible outbursts, and the frustration stemming from both calls -- or, lack thereof, if you're a City supporter -- is understandable. But as strong as City looked, Guardiola's comments ring of moral victories and are oddly defeatist, especially considering where he and the club stand in global soccer's pecking order.

Guardiola arguably is the greatest club manager of all time, and oil money-backed City has the kind of financial might that only a handful of clubs in the world can match, let alone exceed. City trails Liverpool by nine points in the Premier League table, but don't mistake them for underdogs.

Watch Liverpool FC's Fabinho, Mo Salah score early vs. Manchester City

Watch Liverpool FC's Fabinho, Mo Salah score early vs. Manchester City

In the English Premier League's biggest match of the season to date, Liverpool FC got on the front foot early in a 3-1 win over Manchester City. 

The league leaders led 2-0 within the first 15 minutes Sunday at Anfield, thanks to Fabinho's sixth-minute screamer from outside the box and Mo Salah's 13th-minute header.  

Liverpool opened the scoring while Manchester City was slow to defend the Reds' counter-attack, disputing the referee's decision to not award a handball on Trent Alexander-Arnold. City controlled the early portions of the match, and Bernardo Silva's pass in the box hit Alexander-Arnold's outstretched arm with City attacker Raheem Sterling running in behind. 

The Premier League's rule changes reflecting the International Football Association Board's "Laws of the Game" this summer called for a foul when a player has made their body "unnaturally bigger," but the referee appeared to determine that Alexander-Arnold's outstretched arm was natural.

Alexander-Arnold surely earned himself additional ire from the City faithful with his wonderfully weighted pass on Liverpool's second goal. The right back switched the ball to left back Andy Robertson, whose subsequent cross to Salah left the ball on a platter for the Egyptian striker's run. 

[RELATED: Why Steve Kerr admires Jurgen Klopp's passion, joy]

Liverpool's offense runs through their flanks, as Alexander-Arnold and Robertson have been the Premier League's most productive passers this calendar year.

You'd have to go back to April 2017 to see the last time Liverpool lost at Anfield, and that streak continued Sunday. Sadio Mané put the game out of reach with a 51st-minute goal, but Liverpool's two quick goals ultimately proved to be too much for City.