CHESTER, Pa. — Meghan Klingenberg appeared at PPL Park’s media zone last Friday gleefully clutching a ball signed by her United States women’s national team colleagues – a souvenir to mark her first international goal scored four days earlier.
“I’m not sure if it’s THE ball, but I’m going to pretend it is,” Klingenberg said.
THE ball probably has a huge chunk of leather scuffed out of it after the Pittsburgh native walloped it into the net from 25 yards during the Yanks’ 6-0 rout of Haiti during CONCACAF Women’s Championship group play.
Last Friday’s 3-0 win over Mexico in the semi-final confirmed the USA’s spot at next summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. It also means that soccer fans in Western Pennsylvania will have some rare representation on the global stage.
“I hope that me being on this team and being in the national spotlight elevates the game there,” Klingenberg told The Soccer Observer.
Pittsburgh has been lacking in soccer role models. Northern New Jersey, for example, can boast Tobin Heath and Heather O’Reilly on the women’s team after famously supplying the men’s side with John Harkes, Tony Meola and Tab Ramos for the 1990 World Cup. Klingenberg is optimistic that her presence can elevate soccer in the “awesome little hub of greatness” where she grew up.
“We have a lot of really great athletes in Pittsburgh and our sports teams are highly valued, so hopefully I could be that type of person that girls want to be and make them push for the pros.”
The current Houston Dash player was raised in Gibsonia, about 16 miles north of Pittsburgh’s downtown. She won state titles with her Pine-Richland High School and Penns Forest club teams before adding two NCAA Division I national championships during her four years at North Carolina.
Former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage called Klingenberg into camp for the senior national team in January 2011. It was after being named as an alternate for the 2012 Olympic Games and traveling to the United Kingdom with the squad that she decided to move abroad to improve her game.
Klingenberg joined Brazilian superstar Marta and Swedish captain Caroline Seger at Tyresö for the conclusion of that year’s Damallsvenskan season. She helped the Stockholm County club to its first league title after winning at Malmö in a dramatic last-day encounter to pip the defending champion on goal difference.
The American trio of Klingenberg, Whitney Engen and Christen Press represented Tyresö in this year’s UEFA Champions League Final loss against German side Wolfsburg before returning home to the National Women’s Soccer League in the summer.
“I played with some of the best players in the world there,” Klingenberg said. “Watching them practice, watching their movements, seeing their decision-making and what they do with the ball, that was invaluable to me.”
Marrying the tactical and technical aspects of European soccer to the physicality and mental toughness of the American game made Klingenberg an established national team player during the short reign of Tom Sermanni. She has kept her place under new head coach Jill Ellis, and it was fitting that the 26-year-old defender celebrated reaching the World Cup and winning the CONCACAF tournament in her home state in front of her parents and other family members and friends.
Girls’ soccer has been on the up recently in Klingenberg’s hometown. The Pittsburgh Riverhounds Academy added U-14, U-15 and U-16 Atlantic Soccer League championships to the trophy cabinet at Highmark Stadium earlier this year. Program graduate Taylor Schram scored for Penn State in the NCAA Women’s College Cup Final against North Carolina in 2012.
“We’ve got something cool going on with the Riverhounds,” Klingenberg said. “They’ve got their new stadium downtown and they’re starting to get pretty good crowds.
“Things are looking up for Western Pennsylvania in the soccer world.”
Oct. 26, 2014 — Wambach Nods U.S. Women To Seventh CONCACAF Championship
Oct. 24, 2014 — USA Reaches FIFA Women’s World Cup With Win Over Mexico