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COLUMN: Klingenberg’s persistence, business savvy pay off for USWNT peers

Meghan Klingenberg at Heinz Field in 2015 (US Soccer file photo)

Gibsonia native Meghan Klingenberg practically became a household name — especially in these parts among soccer moms and young female soccer players when she was an instrumental part of the United States Women’s National Team’s World Cup victory in 2015.

I’m sure you remember Klingenberg’s triumphant return to her beloved Pittsburgh, scoring a goal and waving a terrible towel at Heinz Field during USWNT’s first match vs Costa Rica after capturing the World Cup that August.

Meghan Klingenberg (22) and the starting XI for USWNT in friendly vs Costa Rica played before more than 43,000 at Heinz Field (August 2015)

RELATED: Klingenberg has special ‘Pittsburgh’ moment (August 2015)

The 30-year old who excelled at Pine-Richland High School, and later made a name for herself with the most iconic women’s collegiate soccer program at the University of North Carolina, continues to play professionally in her third season with the Portland Thorns, helping lead them to the NWSL title last year.

Despite her continued success in Portland, Klingenberg has been excluded for USWNT call-ups for the most part of the past year.

Still, she’s never stopped being an important contributor to US women’s soccer scene even if she’s not been among Head Coach Jill Ellis‘  recent selections.

Never one to hold back her opinions, and an advocate for numerous causes, Klingenberg has made it her mission to see that she and all fellow US women’s players could benefit from licensing and sponsorship deals that they were previously excluded, even after winning the World Cup.

Recently Klingenberg was the subject of a feature article in The Athletic, that chronicled her efforts and impact in helping change the tide.

“I thought it was bullshit,” Klingenberg told The Athletic after a recent Portland Thorns training session. “All these people are making money from our likeness and our faces and our value, but we’re not.”

The players’ union struck a deal which US Soccer would control all image rights.

It was Klingenberg who brought her teammates together when they were on a ‘Victory Tour’ celebrating their accomplishments, including that stop here in Pittsburgh. A little later on that same tour, she got a room, sat her teammates down, and gave a slideshow presentation that would outline how they could craft their players union into a business entity.

“People were like, ‘Kling is crazy,’” Megan Rapinoe told The Athletic. “But honestly, she was truly the visionary for this new way of thinking and trying to set ourselves up as a business. We weren’t even selling three-star T-shirts—we weren’t doing any of that. There were all these little things we could’ve capitalized on, but weren’t set up to do it. It was Kling’s idea and she took it upon herself to say, ‘This is how the Players Association can set itself up for licensing and marketing.’”

Meghan Klingenburg talks to Pgh media at Heinz Field (August 2015)

RELATED: Up close with Meghan Klingeberg (Bonus: Coach Ellis and teammates chime in) 

Klingenberg’s persistence paid off.

Through a licensing and marketing firm created by the NFL players union, REP Worldwide, and including the US Women’s National team’s players union, the national team is signing new licensing deals on a regular basis.

If you thought Klingenberg was a fierce competitor on the field, she’s been equally a force behind the scenes.

“At our very first meeting, Meghan made a strong impression on me as a smart, strategic, and impassioned businessperson who had taken a strong leadership position amongst her peers,” says Steve Scebelo, the president of REP Worldwide and head of business development for NFL Players Inc. told The Athletic. “She saw the long-term potential for a group licensing business built upon the idea of players working for players.”

Her efforts have really paid off in the form of numerous deals being struck including one with the same sponsor as our MonGoals partners, Ruffneck Scarves.

Klingenberg, who studied business with a concentration in entrepreneurship at UNC is really paving the way for her future after she hangs up her cleats.

“I don’t like just playing soccer,” Klingenberg said to The Athletic. “My quality of life suffers if I’m not doing a lot of things. I’m not just coming here and playing and then going home and hanging out.”

Klingenberg’s passion for business, her hometown and for the sport that has made her famous brings her back here to Pittsburgh every so often — especially during the off season.  She has primarily returned to run a soccer camp once per year and has also been seen waving her terrible towel around at Steelers games.

“Megan Klingenberg and the USWNT has spurred a lot of excitement about women’s soccer.  I think women’s sports are really a hot topic right now after (2015) World Cup,” Stephanie Harrison, president of Steel City FC, said to me following Klingenberg’s success.“I’m so happy that young women in our area have such an inspiring role model like Megan to look up to. I’m really excited to see what the future holds for women’s soccer on both a local and national scale. I think Pittsburgh has potential to build a larger soccer community and I am hopeful that this game will continue to build our fan base locally.”

Who knows, maybe there could be other ventures down the road we’ll see first-hand where Klingenberg will affect positive change and have an impact in our region for women.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a high level women’s pro team here in Pittsburgh?

If there’s someone who could be a part of making that happen, it just might be Klingenberg.

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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