The newly retired soccer star tells PEOPLE the NWSL is "in very good hands" next season
You haven't seen the last of Megan Rapinoe.
The 38-year-old soccer star officially ended her playing career on Saturday, but Rapinoe tells PEOPLE that soccer fans can look forward to her support and participation in the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) for years to come.
"Oh, you guys, you're not getting rid of me. Come on now, of course, I'll be around, and I can't wait for what's next," Rapinoe says.
Rapinoe says she'll continue "banging this drum for a thousand years" when it comes to promoting women's soccer. "The investment and the capital and the ability to invest in the business of the league — we've seen what Angel City has done and the atmosphere that they've created – this year was incredible," she explains of the NWSL's successful season.
"I think we're really at a point where you're going to start seeing that kind of exponential growth that I think the league is really ready for, that I know the players are ready for, and that's kind of what we've been envisioning and fighting for all of this time."
Rapinoe says it's "really exciting to see how teams are leveling up" in the last year, and that she's looking forward to watching the growth continue in the league. "I think we've seen the proof is in the pudding. You invest in this league. It's something that people want. It's a product that people love."
The newly retired athlete points to the NWSL's new media deal, announced on Thursday by commissioner Jessica Berman. Starting next year, the four-year media rights deal is worth a combined $60 million per year and will broadcast over 100 games combined on ESPN/ABC, CBS, Prime Sports and ION.
"With this new media deal, it won't be an impossible puzzle to put together to find the games and it's going to be a lot easier for people to watch," Rapinoe explains.
"The valuations of the club is incredible, but I think also from a player's perspective, better facilities and better training facilities and better pitches and better overall medical departments and player experience and all of that has to go hand in hand."
Rapinoe's final game of her career took a sour turn six minutes into play when she went down on a non-contact injury. She shared after the match in a press conference that she believed that she tore her Achilles tendon on the pitch, saying she felt “a huge pop” in her leg.
Before Saturday's final, Rapinoe told PEOPLE she feels like "the game got younger this year" while explaining what she's learned from her younger teammates this season.
"It's time to go — that's what I learned," she said with a laugh. "I feel that the game, I think, got younger even just this year. I felt that in myself. I was like, oh, this is a very much a young woman's game, but the talent is crazy. It's only going to continue to get better. I mean, so many of those players are in their first, second, third year in the league, have one major championship under their belt or less than that."
Losing Rapinoe and Gotham FC star Ali Krieger to retirement this season is a big loss for NWSL fans, but Rapinoe said "the league is in very good hands" moving forward.
During her postgame media availability, Rapinoe said that she “doesn’t want to coach or be locked down into one job," but "would love to stay a part of" her former team, OL Reign, in the organization.
“I would love to stay a part of this group in some kind of way. I feel like I have a lot to offer in terms of the vision and who we should be.”
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Outside of soccer, Rapinoe said she will focus on establishing her production company, A Touch More, with her fiancée, Sue Bird. “Megan and I work really well together, and that's not to say it's all roses,” Bird, 43, told PEOPLE in September.
“I think that's really where the good stuff comes from, the good ideas. It's from bumping heads, it's from having different perspectives, different journeys, and bringing that to the table and seeing what makes sense, what matches, and challenging each other.”
The retired WNBA star added, “I think that's how A Touch More came to be, us sitting on the couch just talking s--- about a bunch of different things. Sometimes we're in total alignment, sometimes we just see it differently, but then we're able to talk through it and whittle down to the actual heart of it all."
"That, I think is where our partnership as people can really be beneficial in the business world. We're accustomed to doing that from our sports backgrounds, from our team sports backgrounds. We have it in our relationship also, and hopefully we can bring it to the rest of the world through A Touch More.”
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