Wily Rapinoe ready to serve again as U.S. defend World Cup

By Philip O'Connor

By Philip O'Connor

(Reuters) - There may be more heralded names in the United States squad heading to France for next month's World Cup but Megan Rapinoe will again be one of the most influential figures as the Americans seek to retain the trophy they won in 2015.

The attacking midfielder, who can play centrally or on the wing, is one of the most senior players in a squad bristling with talent, and the U.S. will as usual be relying on her to create chances for Alex Morgan and her strike partners.

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Captain of Reign FC in the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL), the 33-year-old's vision and ability to improvise have made her an indispensable member of U.S. side since her senior debut in 2006.

Rapinoe netted three goals and four assists as the Americans took gold at the 2012 Olympics in London, and played a key role in the 2015 World Cup-winning team.

Hampered by a series of knee injuries during her career, a switch in the U.S. formation has helped Rapinoe maintain her contribution.

"Traditionally for most of my career with the national team we played a 4-4-2 and only in the last couple of years we changed to more of a 4-3-3," she told FIFA in a recent interview.

"So I'm an attacker, a winger and striker, basically. I think putting me higher on the field and alleviating some of those defensive duties, it puts me closer to the goal.

"The closer I am to the goal, the better, the more dangerous I can be, the more I can bring people in and the more I can create trouble for the defence."

With more teams than ever capable of winning the World Cup, Rapinoe's ability to pull something spectacular out of the bag to save a lost cause may come in very useful in France, despite the fact that she is nearing her mid-thirties.

She famously fired a pinpoint cross from deep on the left for Abby Wambach to equalise against Brazil with almost no time left on the clock in extra time in their 2011 World Cup quarter-final, and the Americans went on to win on penalties.

Rapinoe may find it hard to top that drama this year, but that won't stop her trying as the U.S. face Thailand, Chile and Sweden in Group F.

"It sounds so clich├ęd but I feel so thankful and so lucky that I'm able to do this and have been able to be a part of such an incredible national team with all the things we've done on and off the field," she said.

(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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