PARIS — Megan Rapinoe was still sweating through her uniform on Monday night, moments after scoring two goals for the United States women’s soccer team, when she was asked what the atmosphere around the Americans’ next World Cup match, an elimination game against France on Friday in Paris, might be like.
“Hopefully a complete spectacle, just an absolute media circus,” she said, with the blend of sarcasm and sincerity that has made her one of the most popular women’s soccer players in the world. “I hope it’s huge and crazy.”
Her wish has begun to come true — though perhaps not in the way she imagined.
On Wednesday morning, President Trump criticized Ms. Rapinoe with a three-tweet blast in response to a recent interview in which Ms. Rapinoe stated, with an obscenity, that she would not go to the White House if the United States were to win the World Cup.
[The United States plays France on Friday in the World Cup quarterfinals. Here’s a preview of the match.]
Mr. Trump, whose office and Twitter account grant him a singular ability to inspire both spectacles and media circuses, wrote that Ms. Rapinoe “should never disrespect our country, the White House or our flag.”
“I am a big fan of the American Team, and Women’s Soccer,” the president continued, “but Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job!’’
Visiting the White House was once a fairly routine activity for American sports teams that won major championships. But with Mr. Trump in the White House, such visits have become imbued with political meaning, inspiring fraught conversation each time a team wins a trophy.
Ms. Rapinoe, 33, more than most professional athletes, has welcomed such conversations, and there may be no American soccer player, male or female, better equipped to deal with being pulled into the political spotlight.
A winger with a flashy, creative streak, she is one of the finest soccer players the United States has ever produced. Easy to spot with her swooping wave of lavender-dyed hair, she scored both goals in the United States’ 2-1 win over Spain on Monday, increasing her career tally with the team to 47 in 156 games.
She is one of a handful of American players with a major off-the-field profile, too. Away from the field, Ms. Rapinoe, who is gay, has been an outspoken supporter of L.G.B.T.Q. rights and, more recently, a blunt critic of the president. In 2016, she became one of the few white athletes to join Colin Kaepernick and others when they led an ongoing protest against racism and police violence by kneeling during the national anthem at sporting events.
A co-captain of the women’s national team, she is also a party to its gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer.
“The more I’ve been able to learn about gay rights and equal pay and gender equity and racial inequality, the more that it all intersects,” Ms. Rapinoe told The Guardian in 2017. “We need to talk about a larger conversation in this country about equality in general and respect — especially with the recent election and subsequent narrative that’s coming from the White House right now.”
[Megan Rapinoe has long had an independent streak. Read our 2013 profile.]
Ms. Rapinoe is not the only United States player to say she will not visit the White House. Forward Alex Morgan told Time magazine last month that she would not go, and hours after Mr. Trump’s tweets another American player, Ali Krieger, said she would stand with Ms. Rapinoe and not go.
The recent narrative entwining Ms. Rapinoe and Mr. Trump began on Tuesday, when the soccer magazine 8 by 8 tweeted a video clip excerpted from a January interview in which she was asked whether she was looking forward to going to the White House, assuming the national team won this summer.
“No, I’m not going to the White House,” Ms. Rapinoe said, repeating herself after initially using a profanity to express the same sentiment. “We’re not going to be invited.”
In 2015, Ms. Rapinoe and the United States team won the World Cup in Canada, and the entire team visited the White House for a ceremony with President Barack Obama.
On Wednesday, in his tweet stream, Mr. Trump said that he would invite the team to the White House, “win or lose.” U.S. Soccer said it would have no comment on Ms. Rapinoe’s remarks.
A twin and one of six siblings, she grew up in Redding, Calif., about 200 miles north of San Francisco, and she still speaks with a casual Californian lilt. She came out to her family and close friends in her first year at the University of Portland. She came out publicly a year after the 2011 World Cup, where she had cemented her status as one of the most dynamic players in the country. She had the 35-yard assist on Abby Wambach’s game-tying goal in the waning moments of a quarterfinal against Brazil, one of the biggest goals in U.S. soccer history.
She also became one of the most popular players — among fans around the world and her own teammates — thanks in part to her irreverent sense of humor and a porous filter for her innermost thoughts.
Ms. Rapinoe’s awakening to politics came gradually, later in her career.
On Sept. 4, 2016, while playing for the Seattle Reign in a National Women’s Soccer League game in Chicago, she dropped down to one knee during the playing of the national anthem, becoming the first white athlete and first woman to take part in the protest movement started by Mr. Kaepernick.
The decision launched her into a rapidly boiling national conversation over athletes and activism, earning her months of vitriol from critics along with outpourings of support.
“Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties,” Rapinoe said after that game. “It’s important to have white people stand in support of people of color on this.”
Several months later, the U.S. Soccer Federation rewrote its rules for players, requiring that they stand for the anthem.
Rapinoe said she would respect the rule, but since then, including at this World Cup, she has stood silently on the field with her hands at her sides while the rest of the American players have sung the anthem with their hands over their hearts.
“I’ll probably never put my hand over my heart,” she told Yahoo Sports in May. “I’ll probably never sing the national anthem again.”
In his tweets, Mr. Trump initially tagged the wrong Twitter account, citing @meganrapino instead of @mpinoe. The incorrectly tagged account responded in good humor, saying that the president was likely to be a boon for getting followers. The error was corrected shortly afterward.
Mr. Trump also went on a tangent about the N.B.A., noting it was the only league whose teams had not accepted the invitations to the White House after a championship. The last N.B.A. team to make such a visit was the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, when Mr. Obama’s second term was winding down.
Yahoo Sports quoted Ms. Rapinoe last month calling Mr. Trump “sexist,” “misogynistic,” “small-minded,” “racist” and “not a good person.” But those comments did not draw his public ire.
Ms. Rapinoe was not made available for interviews on Wednesday and did not respond to Mr. Trump on social media.
Andrew Das contributed reporting from Paris, and Victor Mather contributed from New York.
Andrew Keh is an international correspondent, covering sports from Berlin. He has previously covered Major League Baseball and the N.B.A. and has reported from the World Cup and the Olympics. @andrewkeh