PORTLAND, Ore. – It’s a double anniversary season for Portland Thorns FC left back Meghan Klingenberg: her fifth year in Portland; her 10th as a professional. At some point since she left North Carolina in 2010, we all blinded our eyes and boom, “Kling’s” suddenly 31.
She’s become one of the leading voices on her team – an established starter with a stellar resume who has experienced both the ups and downs of the Thorns’ last four seasons. The league title and NWSL Shield she’s won in Portland are part of a curriculum vitae littered with team honors: a 2015 World Cup; a 2012 title in the Swedish league; two national championships during her time in Chapel Hill.
Kling has become such a staple in Portland, we rarely think of her life before the Thorns. But on the brink of her 10th professional season, and coming off a campaign where she was arguably her team’s most valuable player, it’s as good a time as any to remember what Klingenberg has done.
“When I first started playing [as a professional], I was [also] playing for Pia [Sundhage] on the [United States] national team,” Klingenberg remembers. “That was a very different style and commitment to certain values than what is happening on the field from the Thorns or the current national team. I think that I, as an individual, bought into the idea that the outside back is not just someone who heads a lot of balls for you, that wins [possession] a lot and tackles a lot. It's a player that really builds the attack for you and finishes the attack for you and does a lot of running.”
When Klingenberg started her career with the Boston Breakers of Women’s Professional Soccer, she was only just moving out of her natural role as a midfielder. As she honed her new craft in Sweden, the vision of the modern fullback started to change. Whereas in 2011, Sundhage was using a natural center back, Amy LePeilbet, at left back in the World Cup, 2020’s see the role demand a midfielder’s skills.
“You see that all over the world, all over the league, now,” Klingenberg says. “There's this commitment to playing football through the back all the way to the front. I love that. I think this year we're going to see more of that from us.”
The team clearly has to evolve. In Klingenberg’s first season in Portland, the Thorns finished top of the league before being picked off in the first round of the playoffs. The next year, they redeemed themselves, claiming the team’s second star. Another title-game appearance followed in 2018, but 2019 saw the team stumble. They made the playoffs but lost in the first round.
She’s been here for that full ride, part of the reason it felt right that her voice captured the early tone.
“The tone of the season is: two years ago wasn't good enough,” she said. “Last year wasn't good enough. Remember that moving forward, and let's build that into the team we want to be.
“Because that's our goal every single year. We're not the team that wants to go in and play pretty and come out looking great with a tie. That's not the type of team that we are, and that's not the mentality that we want to have. We want to play good soccer. We want to be able to counterattack but also keep the ball. But we want to win. When it comes down to it, we want the Shield, we want the home playoff match, and we want to have the trophy at the end of the year. That's the tone. To me, there's nothing below that is acceptable.”
Part of Klingenberg’s job is reinforcing that standard, a responsibility that comes with both her stature and her role. In 2020, though, that task has been complicated by the roster’s. Eight players who made at least four starts in 2019 have left the club, and while the team’s brought in new reinforcements, they’re still new. They have to be incorporated into a new culture.
“To me, this club is the type of club, whether it's previous or this year's roster, that should win every year,” Klingenberg feels. “I'm really happy that we brought in some fresh new faces, because obviously a shakeup can be good. It can provide new energy, new life, new commitment, new courage to go out there and do what we have to do.”
She’s been taking that approach for the last 10 years, whether it’s meant switching positions, playing overseas, or being one of the prominent voices in her squad. She’s done what she’s had to do. Now, in a year of two anniversaries, Klingenberg has to help right the Thorns’ course.