- Associated Press - Thursday, April 21, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - A lot has changed for Meghan Klingenberg since last year.

She’s now a World Cup champion, something that comes with a lot of attention and added responsibility. And she’s joined the Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League’s pivotal fourth year. She’s also looking ahead to the Olympics.

The 27-year-old defender is handling it all with her usual aplomb.

“How hasn’t life changed is perhaps a better question,” she suggested with a laugh.

Klingenberg is juggling the demands of the spotlight while settling into Portland after two seasons with the Houston Dash. She was part of the deal that sent U.S. teammate Alex Morgan to the expansion Orlando Pride.

She made her debut last weekend in the Thorns’ 2-1 season-opening victory at home over the Pride. The team will visit FC Kansas City on Saturday night, the first of four games on the road.

The national team players are distributed throughout the NWSL, with U.S. Soccer picking up their salaries. The idea is to create a sustainable American professional league. No other attempt at a women’s pro league in the United States has lasted beyond a third season.

In addition to Klingenberg, the Thorns’ roster includes several players with national team experience, including World Cup teammate Tobin Heath, as well as Allie Long, Emily Sonnett and Lindsey Horan.

Klingenberg said she hopes that the league will become profitable enough so that it can attract more international talent and retain the promising players coming out of college.

“To me, there’s obviously growth potential for soccer in America on the men’s side but there seems to be an even bigger growth potential - especially in America - on the women’s side,” she said. “And I think that the people who are getting in early and the people who are going to invest are going to see profits hopefully, and grow the game bigger, and we will continue to be a perennial power because of it.”

Klingenberg, who hails from Pittsburgh, was a four-year starter at North Carolina, but wasn’t limited solely to a defensive role. She had 18 goals and 24 assists during her college career.

She has a long history with the U.S. national team, starting with the under-16 team and working her way up to a debut with the senior team in 2011. She was an alternate for the London Olympics.

With a record TV audience, last summer’s World Cup victory established Klingenberg and her teammates as stars. She was part of a starting defense that went 540 minutes without conceding a goal while crisscrossing Canada. The line also included veteran Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnson and Ali Krieger in front of Hope Solo, who won the Golden Glove award as the tournament’s best goalkeeper.

Afterward, the team was feted with a ticker-tape parade in New York City, an appearance at the White House and a victory tour.

“She’s got good feet and a good brain,” coach Jill Ellis said of Klingenberg during the victory tour, “and I think that’s going to allow her to have a long career with this team.”

Klingenberg is still navigating fame.

“It also comes with a lot obstacles and attention, which isn’t necessarily something that I seek out,” she said. “So it’s been an interesting time frame to deal with that kind of pressure and attention in games, and there’s a certain expectation of how we should play and how we should win. That’s always fun, because I love going to places like UNC or like when I was in Sweden in the top flight we were playing in the championship, so I don’t mind that - it’s just more of the off-field pressures that I don’t like.”

Still, she’s handling it like a pro - even posting a video on her YouTube channel recently to share her favorite guacamole recipe.

Klingenberg wouldn’t comment on the recent contract and wage disputes between the women’s national team and U.S. Soccer that have made headlines. But she did say she’s encouraged by the growth of the women’s game.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “You can see it in the amount of attention it’s getting in the media. You can see it in the number of fans going to the games, you can see it in the amount of jerseys that are being sold on the Nike site. Being a part of something like that is so cool.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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