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Megan Rapinoe discusses confidence, equal pay at youth soccer panel ahead of Reign FC-Spirit clash

Megan Rapinoe said she remains hopeful about the national team's gender-discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. (Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)
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Shortly after she walked out on stage in front of an excited crowd of youth soccer players that had crammed into the ballroom at Gaithersburg Marriott Washington Center, Megan Rapinoe pretended she was going to leave and take advantage of the open bar that had just been announced for parents in attendance.

"Nooo, we have a game tomorrow!" Rapinoe said, sitting down as the crowd laughed.

Rapinoe and USWNT players Rose Lavelle, Mallory Pugh, Allie Long and Washington Spirit midfielder Andi Sullivan indeed have an important match Saturday at Audi Field, where Rapinoe and Long’s club, Reign FC, face off against the Spirit as both teams battle for a spot in the playoffs.

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But Friday night in the Washington suburbs wasn’t about competition. The five players came together in front of a rapturous audience for a rare pre-match panel discussion about youth sports and their relationship to girls’ confidence. The event, which included group photos with all the youth teams in attendance, was kept on a strict schedule so the players could get to bed on time.

Rapinoe, her purple hair vibrant as ever, also answered a question about the U.S. national team's ongoing gender-discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation.

“I’m very hopeful, always,” Rapinoe said of the lawsuit, which is likely headed for a jury trial after the team broke off mediation talks with the federation last month. "Not always encouraged, but I remain hopeful. Eventually, [equal pay] will happen ... it may not be in my playing career, but I’ll spend my dying breath doing this, always.

“In order to close the gap, you have to overinvest in the underserved community. ... It’s not really even enough to say we’re going to do equal when we’re talking about FIFA or whatever, they need to do more. They need to do more to build the game to set a solid foundation, to invest in the women’s game to eventually get it to a place that is comparable to the men. I think the frustrating thing for me personally is we’ve been able to be this successful while still not having equal pay. Imagine – imagine if we spent all of our energy not fighting against you but fighting with you. I see the potential to be so huge.”

Aside from the lawsuit, each of the women on stage shared personal stories about confidence as it relates to their playing careers, from Rapinoe developing the confidence to perform under pressure to Lavelle having enough self-trust to employ her creative, high-risk style of play.

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Pugh, who at one point was the youngest player in the national team's player pool, spoke about not being intimidated around more experienced players.

“All you have to do is just be yourself ... that’s why I was on this team, why I fit into this team,” Pugh said.

Rapinoe also spoke about creating space for women to be more boldly, publicly confident, as she was when she repeatedly struck her signature, arms wide-open pose after scoring a goal during the World Cup this summer and as the U.S. national team was upon returning to the States with the championship trophy.

“It just was so apparent that we got this chance to finally let loose and be on this stage, we all let ourselves do it and let the team do it and encouraged each other,” Rapinoe said. “We know that deep down we go about things the right way, we set the right example, we’re pushing the game forward and are good role models for the sport and little girls and little boys, so we just allowed ourselves that space. We also just deserve it. We’re really good, we’re very successful, we work very hard. We deserve it.”