Megan Rapinoe shaping US next generation at fourth World Cup.

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Megan Rapinoe is embracing a new role in her potentially final Women’s World Cup, using her leadership off the field to influence the next generation of American players.

The enthusiastic Californian played a crucial role in the US team’s victory in 2015 and gained widespread recognition in their successful title defense four years later. Rapinoe, who finished as the tournament’s leading scorer, also made headlines for her public disagreements with former US President Donald Trump.

On her way to her fourth World Cup, Rapinoe, who celebrated her 38th birthday on Wednesday, is the oldest member of the US team. She has no concerns about transitioning from being a starter to being a player on the squad.

“I’m all for longevity, but we don’t need to drag it,” she told Time, as she was named one of the magazine’s women of the year in March.

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The US, who are aiming for an unprecedented third consecutive title, are getting ready to have a young team at the World Cup. Coach Vlatko Andonovski anticipates that Rapinoe will play a role as a player and leader, guiding the other leaders on the team.

“When she’s on the field, she’s a great player. So that’s the first reason why she’s on this team,” he told reporters at a team media event ahead of the World Cup, which kicks off July 20th in Australia and New Zealand.

“She’s just one of the most creative players that I’ve ever seen and a true winner. I mean, she’s certainly a great player and that’s why we want her on the team. But also her experience and leadership is what this team needs as well.”

Rapinoe’s inclusion in the team provides an opportunity for some of the new players in the US World Cup squad to play alongside a player they admired while growing up.

Savannah DeMelo, an uncapped midfielder, recalled her earliest vivid memory of the Women’s World Cup. It was the 2011 quarter-final match where she witnessed Megan Rapinoe deliver an incredibly accurate cross to the legendary Abby Wambach. This pass led to what would later be recognized as the greatest goal ever scored in the history of the tournament.

“(She) makes me feel comfortable even though I’m so young and she’s like much older than me,” said forward Alyssa Thompson, who made the squad despite having just three senior national team appearances under her belt.

“She just makes me feel like I’m supposed to be here too.”

READ ALSO: Risa Shimizu opens up Japan’s preparations for the Women’s World Cup

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