London 2012: Why Megan Rapinoe Is US Women's National Team's X-Factor

Kyle NewportFeatured ColumnistJuly 4, 2012

SANDY, UT - JUNE 30: Megan Rapinoe #15 of the USA and Robyn Gayle #5 of Canada fight for the ball during the second half of the women's Olympic send-off soccer match June 30, 2012 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.  The USA beat Canada 2-1.  (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
George Frey/Getty Images

When the U.S. Women's National Team begins its quest for Olympic gold on July 25th, midfielder Megan Rapinoe will need to play a major role.

After a disappointing end to the World Cup final last year, the USWNT needs to rebound in the Olympics. With the U.S. leading 2-1 against Japan in extra time, Rapinoe was removed from the game for a substitute.

Thinking she had the World Cup won when she exited, the disappointment should motivate her to finish what she started in this tournament.

The USWNT has offensive firepower that any team would envy, and they should have no problem scoring. With Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux, the Americans have plenty of depth at forward.

The lack of consistent play out of the midfield position sometimes makes it difficult for the team to attack. Carli Lloyd occasionally tries to be an attacker, but that should not be her role. Lloyd and Shannon Boxx need to focus on maintaining possession and letting the forwards score.

Over the weekend, Rapinoe's pass in the 85th minute set up a United States goal to pull out a 2-1 victory over Canada. 

The U.S. faces France, who they beat in the 2011 World Cup semifinals, in the first game. The No. 1-ranked Americans should have no problems in group play, but they will need great play out of Rapinoe later in the tournament.

She set up two of the biggest goals in the history of the team during the World Cup.

In the quarterfinals against Brazil, she saved the United States with a beautiful cross late in extra time. With her team down 2-1 in the 122nd minute, she lofted a ball into the box for Wambach, who sent the ball into the net with her head. It turned out to be a huge play as the Americans won the game on penalty kicks.

In the penalty shootout, Rapinoe converted her shot to help the team advance to the semifinals. 

During the final match against Japan, she set up what looked like the game-winning goal in regulation. In the 69th minute, she launched the ball all the way down the field and past the defense. Morgan was able to catch up to the ball and put it in to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead. If not for a late goal, Rapinoe's pass would have been the difference.

Although she has the ability to score, she is most valuable when she is setting up her teammates. She is arguably the team's best passer, and she has made great passes in clutch situations.

When she sets up for a corner, the team is very dangerous. Wambach has a knack for heading the ball into the net.  As long as Rapinoe puts the ball in the box, anything can happen. 

As shown in the World Cup, her long passing can make a difference. With Morgan's speed, Rapinoe can send a long pass her way and let the forward go get it. 

After being in and out of the starting lineup, she is finally being given the opportunity to start. Her passing gives the USWNT a great chance to win, so she needs to be on top of her game throughout the Olympics.

The chemistry between Rapinoe, Morgan and Wambach makes the U.S. the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament.

The Americans can put the ball in the back of the net, but it will take great play out of their star midfielder to take home the gold.