Meghan Klingenberg interview: The rhythm of our lives – Stripes earned, now U.S. defender shoots for the stars
The U.S. Women’s National Team inspired a nation with their 1999 FIFA World Cup win, and as one of the kids watching at home that afternoon – defender Meghan Klingenberg – prepares to step onto the same stage, some notes still play on in the key of unashamed nostalgia from that special day.
The music and soccer connection runs deep around the world and there will be examples of that relationship on display as many of the women’s game’s great and good contest the World Cup in Canada over the coming weeks. Players will appear in deep focus as they proceed to the locker room with their headphones on, the national anthems will be heard proudly throughout the competition, while Sarah McLachlan, as well as Tegan and Sara, will headline the opening ceremony. For a player, the significance of music can go far beyond something to turn to for added motivational spark, instead making its mark in all areas of their life.
Four years on from her initial introduction to the National Team, Houston Dash defender Meghan Klingenberg has now undoubtedly established her credentials in the starting eleven, seeing much more playing time in the past two years. Heading into this World Cup, ‘Kling’ has become a regular at left-back for Jill Ellis, supplementing her defensive work with an attacking dimension and catching the eye with sensational goals against Haiti and New Zealand inside the last eight months.
As the 26-year-old’s profile has risen with the National Team, more and more people have got to know her exuberant and amiable personality. The patriotism that is always present with the U.S. will reach spine-tingling levels over this summer and it will be every bit a dream come true for Meghan to line up as ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ sounds out in the biggest tournament of all.
Turning the clock back by four World Cups, Meghan followed along with millions at home as Brandi Chastain’s penalty saw off China in the final shootout and laid down a marker for women’s sports in front of a colossal 90,185 at the Rose Bowl. Just ten years old at the time, Kling was watching the game with her mother, Kristen, as well as a friend who worried that they might miss the *NSYNC concert in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania they had tickets for that evening!
As part of the Americans’ preparation for the upcoming World Cup they were victorious at the Algarve Cup in March, beating France 2-0 in the final. The team put together an exclusive off-field show during their downtime, in which Meghan stepped forward with a routine that fittingly incorporated those childhood (and adulthood?!) boyband favourites of hers.
“While in Portugal, we had a team lip sync competition,” she explained. “It was ‘hush hush’ on social media but it was a really cool way of seeing my teammates perform in a different setting.
“A group of ‘nuns’ stole the show while performing a number from the classic movie Sister Act. I tried my best to outperform them but could only muster up a measly second-place showing for my rendition of a mash-up of *NSYNC, Smash Mouth, Whitney Houston, Mac Miller and TLC.
“I definitely wouldn’t be caught dead actually singing.”
Although set to appear in her first senior international tournament, Pittsburgh-born Meghan was a winner at the Under-20 World Cup in 2008, also travelling to the 2012 London Olympics with the full team as an alternate. A UEFA Champions League finalist last year with Tyresö FF of Sweden, the popular Houston number 25 is far from a novice in the game and featured in Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) in 2011 before making her return to the U.S. pro game with her move to the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in 2014.
The final demise of WPS in the opening months of 2012 was hugely significant for the league’s players and life-changing in numerous cases. For Meghan, who had represented the Florida-based magicJack and the Boston Breakers in the third and last season of the league, it led to moving her life and career to Sweden, competing in the top-flight Damallsvenskan with Tyresö after a stint with Western New York Flash in the WPSL-Elite.
Exposed to additional intricate aspects of the sport to go with the intensity and physicality so often highlighted in the U.S. game, her two years in Sweden were invaluable. In addition to compatriots in goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, defenders Ali Krieger and Whitney Engen, and forward Christen Press, she also played alongside international jewels like Spain’s Vero Boquete and Brazilian star Marta during her stay.
One of the other widely-respected talents at the club was Swedish midfield standout Caroline Seger, who got involved with her National Team’s official song for the 2015 World Cup by contacting the duo, Medina. In those Tyresö days, the current Paris Saint-Germain performer was joined by Meghan in getting the 2012 league champions in high spirits before a game.
“When I played in Sweden, the current Swedish National Team captain, Caroline Seger, and I split duties DJing for the group. She would introduce me to Euro-based music like Medina, Calvin Harris, Icona Pop and other artists like that; she was great at it.”
Back home in Pennsylvania, Meghan captained her soccer team at Pine-Richland High School and was a state champion in 2005, graduating two years later. Her collegiate career at the University of North Carolina was something to savour as she twice won the NCAA Championship during her four years as a starter for the Tar Heels, also being named an NSCAA All-American as a senior in 2010.
Playing everywhere outfield for UNC, she became a champion on two continents on the same day in 2008 as her Tar Heels teammates won the National Championship while Meghan was in Chile winning the Under-20 World Cup. Leading the U.S. at that tournament was her future Boston Breakers boss (and of course, coach of the ‘99ers), Tony DiCicco, and three members of this 2015 World Cup squad in goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and forwards Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux also lifted the trophy.
Although it has been under the management of Jill Ellis, and prior to that, Tom Sermanni, that Meghan has properly emerged for the National Team, it was Pia Sundhage who first called her into camp in January 2011. Her debut came that same month, in a 2-1 win over Canada at the Four Nations Tournament in China, a competition the U.S. won.
Meghan subbed in to the match for Kelley O’Hara and the U.S. goals came from Lindsay Tarpley and Lauren Holiday (back when she was still Lauren Cheney). Although there are so many elements that make up the identity of the USWNT it could certainly be said that there is a strong musical backdrop, with FC Kansas City midfielder Holiday one of the most well-known locker room DJs for the team over recent years.
Numerous players on the team, past and present, have searched the musical depths of their character on here and each one has had something different to share about the fun side and also about how it resonates with who they are beyond the athlete the crowds see on game day. Meghan describes its significance to her and also reveals some of her tendencies in this regard.
“Music is a really important aspect in my life; I absolutely love listening to new music and finding fresh tracks. I actually take pride in finding music before public radio can ruin it through overplaying.
“I don’t have favourite artists really; it’s more about what strikes me as a jam in the moment.”
Of all the qualities music and soccer have in common it is arguably the emotional unity that is most powerful. Both can produce pieces of magic that touch something within us and dazzle our senses, whether it is the rush from a late winning goal or a song inked in our memory.
The USWNT so often comes up with these moments to stir excitement and breathe new energy into the game and those watching on. It could be the incisiveness from Lauren Holiday to unlock a backline, Sydney Leroux or Alex Morgan racing through in full flow, some defensive mastery from Becky Sauerbrunn, or even a rocket into the net from Kling – it’s all true entertainment and art when it comes together.
The bravery to break out of what we are accustomed to and to try something new and challenging can bring the biggest rewards. It is hard to believe in some ways that Meghan was once so shy as a young kid that her parents got her to take up taekwondo to develop her confidence, but she went on to become a third-degree black belt and only put aside her martial arts when she had to choose between that and soccer at 16.
A Parade High School All-American, Meghan showed off her taekwondo skills in front of her school at a talent show in fifth grade, with the backing music coming from *NSYNC of course. One of the regular questions in these music/soccer interviews on here asks the player which of their career teammates they would enlist the help of if they were to ever record a cover version of a song. Last year, FC Kansas City captain Becky Sauerbrunn picked out Meghan as an ideal choice for her group due to her lack of fear, so would Kling put forward her defensive colleague for this?
“I appreciate Becky’s confidence in me, but I would not pick her, mainly because I’m sure she would never forgive me! If I was to be in a group, then I would need some talent to cover up my deficiencies.
“Pinoe (Megan Rapinoe) and Crystal (Dunn) would be my first choices; they can both sing and dance. With them by my side, I’m sure we could tackle any song, but I think that a throwback version of Billy Joel’s ‘The Longest Time’ could be a big hit and completely unexpected.
“Plus, I’m a great snapper.”
Growing up in Gibsonia, Meghan is a Pittsburgh Steelers (NFL), Pirates (MLB) and Penguins (NHL) fan but when it came to the first music of her own it wasn’t a Pennsylvania offering, but a decidedly English one instead.
“The first CD I ever remember getting was Chumbawamba ‘Tubthumping’. It was a Christmas gift to accompany my first CD player.
“I would blast that CD so loud that I think it eventually broke.”
Apart from listening to the odd 90s one-hit wonder from across the Atlantic, Meghan has of course crossed paths with plenty of English players in her career up to now. En route to Tyresö’s Champions League final appearance last year they ousted Birmingham City over two semi-final legs and Meghan was a starter as the U.S. defeated England 1-0 in February in Milton Keynes.
It was Alex Morgan’s header that was enough on the night and Meghan found the trip an authentic experience. She also had kind words when asked about her one-time Boston Breakers teammate Kelly Smith, as a World Cup without the legendary England attacker approaches, with the Arsenal great now retired from international duty.
“We stayed on a large country estate while staying in England. You don’t find those types of places in the USA, which makes it extra special when you experience it abroad.
“Also, Kelly is an amazing player; one of the best when it comes to vision on the field and creating final passes. She was an inspiration to watch.”
Although she has now gone beyond 30 caps for her country, the Kling who first started playing soccer felt so far behind the other kids that she wanted to stick to softball. On a trip with her mother, she took inspiration as they watched the women’s team at UNC and would of course become a Tar Heel some years later (although Mom didn’t agree with her choice initially!).
She looks back on her Chapel Hill days with huge fondness and besides the championships won as a player she even coached there as an undergraduate assistant, as well as getting involved with the commentary side on the radio station WCHL. A Business Administration major, her college soccer years set her up for a playing career that has encompassed two professional leagues in the U.S., as well as Sweden’s top level and the women’s game’s premier continental club competition.
Running the Meghan Klingenberg Soccer Camp in Pittsburgh this July, she is proud of where she comes from and won’t be struggling in the slightest for people to root for her back home during this World Cup.
“Having the type of support that I have from my friends and family who will like and love me no matter the outcome of the World Cup makes it much easier to compete on that type of stage. It allows me to take chances and risks that I wouldn’t be able to take without their support.
“I know that the American Outlaws, Pittsburgh Chapter has some cool viewing parties planned. I hope that it will be a blast and we can provide good results that keep the parties going.”
Unsurprisingly, Meghan has stated her intention to retain her starting place and leave Canada as a World Cup winner in July. In the CONCACAF Women’s Championship home game with Haiti last October, she hit her first international goal with a stunning right-footer from outside the box that ripped beautifully into the far corner. She was an ever-present during this World Cup qualifying phase and her beaming expression as she ran away celebrating the goal as her family watched on in the Washington crowd was a picture of elation.
This April, she came up with another beauty from outside the box, this time in the 4-0 win over New Zealand before a crowd of 35,817 in St. Louis. The attendance was the largest for a stand-alone (not part of a double event) home USWNT friendly and thinking back to the kind of support the men’s team had for the World Cup last year it is fair to suggest that the U.S. will enjoy quite some backing in Canada and at home.
It is a chance for the players to create their own moments to stand forever alongside the likes of Brandi Chastain’s winning spot kick in ’99, Michelle Akers’ goals to win the final in ’91, or even one to bring the kind of relief and celebration that Abby Wambach’s extra-time leveller against Brazil in the 2011 quarter-final was responsible for. Dreams can be sparked in the hearts and minds of the next generation by achievements like those while people of all ages get a memory to cherish, so Meghan would love her ‘Class of ‘15’ to set off such indescribable euphoria.
“The feeling is a bit surreal. I hope that we can create history and inspire young and old people alike with our play and fighting spirit.
“It would be an honour to be able to provide that type of moment for someone watching.”
On the domestic scene, Meghan is in her second season with the NWSL’s first expansion team, the Houston Dash, having been acquired by Randy Waldrum’s side in the 2014 Expansion Draft from Boston. Aiming to push on from their final standing of 9th last year, the Dash caught the attention with a close-season of business that included the additions of National Team midfielders Carli Lloyd and Morgan Brian.
The latter of those is Meghan’s roommate and along with two-time Olympic gold medal-winning goal hero Lloyd they make up Houston’s trio on the Americans’ tournament roster. Familiar faces will be all around for Meghan in the weeks to come and they include U.S. assistant Tony Gustavsson, who was her head coach at Tyresö and always encouraged her to get forward from her defensive starting block.
The National Team has been seeing the benefit of this attacking edge and Meghan, who was well-versed in highly-driven and testing surroundings from her UNC days, has more than deserved her spot on a roster known for its ultra-competitive environment. Speaking from the team’s World Cup camp, she discussed the lighter side of the times when the squad gets together, referring also to an unexpected Mother’s Day treat that was shared by players and supporters alike via social media.
“Our team is always one notch of intensity higher than any other team I’ve played on. There will be no shortage of intensity, but we always find times to laugh.
“When FOX (Sports) brought our moms in for a surprise on Mother’s Day weekend, it was the happiest I’ve seen our team in a long time. It was a great distraction and provided a lot of joy for everyone involved.
“We try to find many moments like this throughout camp to keep up morale and keep the intensity low when not on the field.”
In a two-year period that gave Meghan all sorts of new living experiences (including discovering the ‘fika’ coffee break tradition she is a huge fan of), she progressed considerably as a player in Sweden. Although Tyresö were narrowly beaten 4-3 by VfL Wolfsburg in the Champions League final in Lisbon last May they did manage to win their domestic league in 2012 and finish as runners-up in 2013.
Due to well-documented financial trouble the team folded last year, vacating their place in the Damallsvenskan while the season was in progress. People naturally think of the star names Tyresö possessed, as mentioned earlier, but it was an all-round team with talented Swedish players such as Linda Sembrant and Lisa Dahlkvist, to name just two.
It is safe to say that Meghan’s time representing the club meant a lot to her and when National Team colleague and ex-Tyresö counterpart Christen Press was interviewed for this site in May 2013 she was living with her and Spanish internationals Vero Boquete and Jenni Hermoso in ‘The House of Happiness’. Two years on, Meghan and Christen are number 22 and 23 for the U.S. at a World Cup, while their former housemates also made it to the big time with Spain.
For Meghan, even as she steps onto the world stage, the community nature that characterises women’s soccer will ensure that plenty present will not be strangers to her.
“The House of Happiness has had a lot of superstars pass through it and many of them will be at this World Cup. I will almost know someone on every team.
“It makes the tournament that much more fun. Playing against your friends always has separate repercussions than just winning or losing.
“It brings an added level of pressure because it’s a game of bragging rights. I will love every second of that.”
As she gets back to her preparations for the tournament, it is the turn of the Kling to put together a team of her own. Each player on here is asked to imagine taking part in a 5-a-side game and to come up with four of their career teammates to be on their side, for whatever reasons they decide!
With this line-up, it’s an American backbone with some five-star Swedish and Brazilian quality to top it all off. Meghan begins by introducing a keeper who laid her feelings on the line in an insightful and candid interview on here in February, also highlighting her liking for small-sided games, which wins her the number one spot on Team Kling here!
“Keeper: Jill Loyden – she always seemed to have a different level when five-v-five was on. Defender: Becky Sauerbrunn – I’m sure she would feel much better about me picking her for this team.
“Midfielder: Caroline Seger – we were always on the same page, plus, she’s almost as competitive as me. Also, she would pump the jams; she is a lot of fun to be around.
“Forward: Marta – because it’s Marta. The girl has musical talent too!”
To catch each of these interviews, you can follow me: @chris_brookes
Here’s where you can find the music/soccer interviews from Kling’s USWNT teammates on here, from Ashlyn to Christen to Syd (and so on!)
You can also keep on track by liking the site on Facebook – Beats & Rhymes FC