Think back to three years ago, at right around this time. Megan Rapinoe was racing against the clock to be healthy for the 2016 Olympics after tearing her right ACL the previous December.

Many observers thought Jill Ellis’ decision to name the then-31-year-old to the 18-player squad was too risky. And because of her age, some of those observers doubted Rapinoe would regain the creative skills that make her unlike almost any other player in U.S. history.

The doubters are nowhere to be found now. As Rapinoe, now 33, heads to her third World Cup, the winger for suburban Seattle-based Reign FC is in some of the best form of her entire career. Just ask England and Australia, against whom the Northern California native scored two of the U.S.' goals of the year so far.

Against England in March, she uncorked a chest-trap-and-smash from 18 yards that all came in one smooth motion.

A month later against the Matildas, Rapinoe trapped a loose ball at the top of the 18-yard box, cut inside, then, a few steps later, whipped a shot into the net. It was a big goal, too, breaking a 2-2 tie and spurring the Americans on to a 5-3 win in their last game against a marquee opponent before the World Cup.

Since the start of 2018, Rapinoe has delivered 10 goals and 10 assists in 24 national team games.

“I’m playing better than I ever have the last two years,” Rapinoe said. She described her renaissance as a “second career," and said she has worked to change her playing style in that span.

“I try not to be regretful about the past,” she said. "You can do a certain thing up until a certain point, and then if you just keep doing that thing, you get old very quickly. I feel like now, in this second part, it’s all about what can I do to not only keep myself at this level, but continue to get better. What little tweaks can I make?”

One of those tweaks is seasoning the trickery that made her a superstar with some veteran guile. She has been helped in that by her girlfriend, Sue Bird. The four-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time WNBA champion with the Seattle Storm has followed a similar path in recent years. And, just as Bird still gets the better of younger players on the court, so does Rapinoe on the field.

“I think the creativity has kind of been there, but I think getting older, you understand the game a little bit more,” Rapinoe said. “I was talking about that with Sue the other day — she was saying there’s a certain time in an athlete’s life where physically, maybe you’re not exactly where you used to be, but if you play long enough ... the step you lost, you’ve already gained back in how well you know the game.”

U.S. coach Jill Ellis is not surprised that Rapinoe has done so well. And as Rapinoe returns to the biggest stage of all, Ellis believes she’s primed to deliver again.

Remember the cross that Abby Wambach headed into the history books against Brazil in 2011? Or the two goals that beat Australia in 2015? Ellis does.

“When you have a player that’s experienced being in a game like she was in that Brazil game in the 2011 World Cup, and that can share that story, has embodied that about our team — meaning you’re never out of this ... as a coach you just can’t lean on that enough,” Ellis said when she announced the World Cup roster in early May. “She’s not a B.S. player. She knows what needs to happen in those big moments and sets those expectations not just on herself, but on her teammates.”