Role of Portland looms large on respective women's national teams

U.S,'s Rapinoe & Cox, Canada's Schmidt all share Portland ties

This evening marks a homecoming of sorts for three women’s soccer players coming off a dramatic and record-setting 2011 FIFA World Cup in Germany (8 pm, ESPN 2, ESPN3.com).

United States midfielder Megan Rapinoe (above left), defender Stephanie (Lopez) Cox (above right) and Canadian midfielder Sophie Schmidt, all of whom played collegiately at the University of Portland, return to the Rose City tonight as the U.S. Women’s National Team faces Canada in an international friendly at JELD-WEN Field.

Rapinoe, who rocketed to fame with a pin-point cross to Abby Wambach for the game-tying goal in the dying seconds of overtime against Brazil in the semifinals, featured for the Pilots during four seasons on The Bluff from 2004-2008. The 26-year-old was part of the 2005 NCAA Championship-winning team and went on to win West Coast Conference Player of the Year honors as a senior in 2008.

“To come back here and know that I played my college soccer here and have a sense of my roots here is pretty cool,” Rapinoe said. “It’s hard to get back up here (with a busy schedule), but now that I’m up here I’m like, ‘Why don’t I live here?’ I always think that every time I come back.”

Cox, who was also part of UP’s championship team in 2005, was on the bench for the United States in 2007 during a 4-0 friendly win over Mexico at JELD-WEN Field. She didn’t play in the match in order to stay fresh for her upcoming college matches.

“It’s amazing coming back. The fans are so special and I just love playing in Portland,” Cox said.

The profile of women’s soccer has been at its highest in the wake of a record-setting World Cup last summer.

The U.S. National Team’s finals matchup against Japan drew an average of 13.45 million viewers, with a peak of 21.1 million during the shootout portion of Japan’s victory over the United States. According to the Nielsen Company, the telecast was the most watched soccer telecast on an ESPN Network (and the sixth most-watched soccer telecast of all time). It was also the second-most watched daytime telecast (Monday-Sunday, 6 a.m.-6 p.m.) in cable history, behind only the 2011 Rose Bowl.

“It’s just crazy. For the amount that our profile, not only individually but just as a national team, has been raised is unbelievable,” Rapinoe said. “I’ve never really been a part of anything to this magnitude. When (UP) won the championship in 2005 it was like a tiny slice of that pie. It really feels like the whole nation is excited (now). It keeps shocking me every time. It’s crazy and very, very humbling.”

 U.S.'s Megan Rapinoe battles Canada's Sophie Schmidt
Photo: Getty 

Schmidt, who played at UP from 2007-2010, will line up on the opposite side of her former collegiate teammates tonight.

“The fans here are fantastic in Portland, I think like no other,” Schmidt, 23, said. “They supported me throughout my career here and hopefully (tonight) we can put on a show.”

The Rose City has hosted the U.S. Women’s National Team nine times prior to tonight’s match and JELD-WEN Field featured six games during the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup, drawing an average crowd of 22,258 for the World Cup matches.

“I told them (my Canadian teammates) to expect a loud crowd so I think the fans won’t disappoint,” Schmidt said.

Rapinoe's 2005 UP national championship teammate, Christine Sinclair, is not suiting up for the Canadians tonight due to request to take a short break from the national squad.

While a winning result will be nice for the United States tonight, Rapinoe and Cox said the match is meant to be a celebration of the World Cup and a thank you to fans who watched on television and couldn’t travel to Germany to support the team.

“Since the World Cup it’s been unbelievable,” said Cox, who plays professionally for the Boston Breakers of Women’s Professional Soccer. “It’s pretty cool the exposure we got at the World Cup and how many people followed us.”

“It’s incredibly special to me (to come back to Portland),” Rapinoe said. I think it’s such an amazing soccer city and we don’t get up here that much. To be able to come back with this team coming off this incredibly wild and crazy, emotional World Cup and to end it in a town like this that is near and dear to my heart is really special.”