If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) during the 2015 Women’s World Cup, is that each player on that squad packs a powerful punch in her own way. And that can be said especially for defender Meghan Klingenberg (the kids call her “Kling”).
The feisty left-back holds a black belt in Taekwondo, and at 5-foot-2 often matches up against opponents a foot taller. With exuberance, speed and a ‘never-tell-me-I-can’t-do-something’ attitude, Klingenberg lives above the rim in personality and possesses a fighting spirit that floods over any obstacle that dare stands in her way.
The 27-year old recently sat down with byteclay.com to talk about her young soccer career, her World Cup win and what it takes to turn weaknesses into strengths.
byteclay.com: First of all congratulations on winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Has the reality of the win sunk in yet?
Meghan Klingenberg: When people ask, “How does it feel? What is it like?” – Those are the worst questions I can get, because how can you put into words something as special and as cool as that moment?
I’ve never been able to vocally speak about it. It’s really, really difficult to describe it. But it was a wonderful day.
EX: You were such a huge part of that victory. But the one play the fans most remember is your goal line header-save against Sweden. It’s legendary now. Can you take us into your head as that play unfolded?
MK: I know when Hope (Solo) moves across the goal on a corner kick, I have to get to cover her mark. And really, I was only thinking about doing my job and making sure that I was fulfilling that role – because it’s an important role!
I was lucky that I was paying attention at our team meetings. Then, luckily the ball came right to me because it was coming in fast. I just had to go up and put my head on it.
EX: You must have always dreamed about how it would feel to win the World Cup, but were you prepared for the aftermath? It’s been seriously crazy for this team making appearances on talk shows, award shows, parades, concerts, the White House, etc. Where you prepared for all of this?
MK: No, absolutely not. How could anybody be prepared for something like that to happen? There’s no way to prepare for that much amount of attention, that amount of praise put upon you, and the public eye watching your every move. It’s been a really, really interesting journey.
EX: How do you keep your ego in check through all of this?
MK: (Laughs) Oh the ego! I don’t. No, no I’m just kidding.
Honestly, I just play the game that I love. I know that I’m passionate about it and that’s what I love doing. So, that’s what I grasp on to.
I make sure I remember why I’m doing it, what I’m doing, and I always remember that the only reason these things are happening is because I love soccer and I love playing. And that’s really all that matters to me.
If I don’t love it anymore then I’m not going to play. I don’t love going to award shows and doing all those things. Its fun, but if it wasn’t part of my life, I wouldn’t be missing anything because I never had it in the first place.
EX: What has been your most memorable moment from this post-Women’s World Cup experience?
MK: The most memorable moment is so difficult to choose. There’s really nothing that can compare to a parade in New York City with one million people screaming for you and cheering you on. Especially one that’s never been done for a women’s team before.
But honestly, what I really enjoyed was the Glamour Magazine Gala
where we won Women of the Year. It was so inspiring being around women like Elizabeth Holmes, Cecile Richards, the Women of Charleston, and all these women who are passionate about what they do. Being part of something like that and to share in their experiences was really cool.
I love meeting other people who are really good at what they do because I love seeing what they’ve gone through, what their struggles were, what kind of obstacles they had to overcome. To me, that was the most interesting event.
EX: I think the most memorable experience for the fans was during the Victory Tour when you scored a goal at Heinz Field in front of 44,000 people. You grabbed the Terrible Towel and celebrated. As a kid growing up in the Pittsburgh area, is that something that goes way beyond anything you ever imagined?
MK: (Laughs). Yeah, definitely. Waving the Terrible Towel is something I’ve been doing since I was maybe four or five years old. Being able to do it because I was in Pittsburgh and I scored a goal in front of hometown fans, is something that the city really appreciated and I really felt like I was giving them back the love.
I totally love the city, so it was nothing for me (to wave the Terrible Towel). But it’s really endeared me to the fans and the city like nothing else before. I’m so grateful because they have been an incredible support system leading up to the World Cup and going into the Olympics in 2016.
EX: How old were you when you first realized that soccer was going to be your thing?
MK: When I was growing up, I always knew soccer was something that I wanted to do, but I never knew I was going to be able to do it as a job.
When I was nine, I took a road trip with my mom down to North Carolina. When I was growing up, we liked to take spontaneous road trips together just because we wanted to spend quality time together.
So we took this road trip to North Carolina and saw the Tar Heels play. And I thought they were the most incredible women I had ever seen. So, I wanted to be just like them. And that’s how the goal of getting to University of North Carolina started.
But I didn’t really realize that I was able to be anything more than that, until I watched the women play in the 1999 Women’s World Cup. Then I wanted to be on the National Team.
EX: So, since you were nine years old, you had it in your head that you wanted to play at North Carolina?
MK: Yes, I always wanted to play at North Carolina. That was it for me. You know, it was North Carolina or bust.
I was just lucky that I was able to go there. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I made life-long friends there. The coaching staff are incredible human beings, as well as great coaches. It’s a place I can see myself living after I’m done playing.
EX: Speaking of which, as kid did you ever have a coach or an adult tell you that you were too small to play pro soccer?
MK: I had a few try to tell me that but I never really listened. I never understood why it was an issue. Because I never let it be an issue.
I never really understand why people tell other players or people that they can’t do things. I think you need to find a way around the obstacles. If you’re able to do that, then those are the type of people I want on my team, who I want to work with anyway – the people who not only see an obstacle, but find a way around it or find out how it can be a strength instead of a weakness.
EX: What’s your best advice for a young person right now who might be struggling with their size or just trying to fit in? What would you say to them to keep them from quitting?
MK: Honestly, I would just talk to them about following their passion. And it doesn’t matter what the passion is, whether it’s politics, wanting to become president of the United States or being an artist who displays their art in galleries – just follow your passion and don’t let anybody tell you that you’re not good enough. Because if you’re passionate about it, you’re good enough.
You just need to find your way, find what makes you good, and find what makes you the best at what you do. I don’t think its about adhering to social norms or making sure you fit in, I think it’s more about finding what you love and really pursuing that.
EX: You’re the type of person who just oozes self-confidence. Is self-confidence something that you’ve always had or was it something that you had to discover about yourself?
MK: Confidence isn’t inherent. I think that’s a myth that a lot of people believe in.
But I have confidence because I have practiced. I have confidence because I have literally lived every day of my life to this point practicing so I would be ready for the World Cup.
I think that the preparation and knowing how much work that I’ve put in is really what gives me confidence. It’s not necessarily an inherent trait. It’s about making sure that you’ve done all that you possibly can to be READY.
EX: That goes beyond sports, doesn’t it?
MK: One-hundred percent!
EX: You’re only 27 and you’ve achieved that rare goal of winning the World Cup. What’s the next thing that you want to achieve in your soccer career?
MK: I’m definitely looking toward the Olympics next summer. I went to the Olympics in 2012 as an alternate, so I didn’t win a gold medal. And sitting there watching my teammates win – I was so happy and proud of them, but I also wanted that for me!
So, that is on the agenda next. Hopefully, I can play well and continue playing well and get on that roster and we can compete and bring home gold from Brazil.
EX: So, 2016 you’ll be playing for Portland Thorns FC in the NWSL. What are your thoughts on playing in Portland and for those fanatical fans that they have there?
MK: Well, I don’t think there’s a better place you can play other than Portland. They are just the definition of Soccer City. I’m excited to be there and play in front of those fans. How can you not be happy when you have that kind of support?
EX: They really are a great showcase for the NWSL.
MK: Absolutely. The NWSL needs more franchises like Portland and Houston. I think that’s what they’re getting in Orlando City too.
EX: Let’s end this interview with a few fun questions. How does that sound?
MK: Sure! Let’s do it!
EX: We know you are a skilled martial artist. So the fight card is Meghan Klingenberg vs. Ronda Rousey. Who wins?
MK: Definitely Ronda! I think I could last a while longer than some of her past competitors purely by running around. I don’t think she could catch me for 16 seconds (laughs). I mean, as soon as she puts me on the ground, I’m tapping out.
EX: You’ve been rubbing elbows with celebrities and world leaders lately, is there someone you haven’t met, who you would love to meet?
MK: Yeah! So, Amy Schumer was at the Glamour Women of the Year Gala and she gave the monologue at the beginning… and then she left!
I was sitting two seats behind her and I was so ready to be like, ‘Listen Amy, I’m a big fan. I think we should be friends because you’re hilarious, I love your new jokes, some people think I’m funny, maybe this could work, you know?’
But she didn’t end up going to the after-party and I was so disappointed. Big bummer.
EX: Okay, here’s a question I think you’re going to get a lot now. The 99ers (in their prime) vs. The 15ers. Who wins?
MK: Oh jeez. The game is just so different now. I think that the 99ers were absolute pioneers and I will never take anything away from them because they are incredible. I mean we… I could never bet against them.
EX: That’s a tough one to answer. Kling, thank you for taking the time to chat today and for being a great ambassador to the women’s game. We appreciate you in so many ways.
MK: Thanks for having me, it’s been a blast!
Catch Meghan Klingenberg and her USWNT teammates as they face Republic of Ireland on January 23, 2016 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego (2 p.m. PT, FS1).
Find out more about the Meghan Klingenberg Soccer Camp and support youngsters reach their full potential by helping the MK Foundation.
This interview originally aired on Women’s World Football Show. Listen to the interview in its entirety at WWFShow.com.