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Flash’s Olympians forge sisterly bond

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

They may be at different career stages and possess near-opposite personality traits, but U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer alternates Lori Lindsey and Meghan Klingenberg have forged a big sister-little sister type of relationship that will make their role in London infinitely more enjoyable.

A short conversation with the duo following the Western New York Flash’s 2-0 win over the Philadelphia Fever in June was enough to grasp a rather unexpected close friendship.

After all, the calm veteran Lindsey is 32 and in the twilight of her international career, while the sprightly Klingenberg, only 23, is just putting her stamp on the women’s game. It’s typical for veterans to congregate with fellow vets and youngsters to hang together, but there’s no such barrier here.

The most telling evidence of this friendship was each player’s response to what they were most looking forward to in London. Lindsey replied first: “We’re going to Manchester, we’re going to Old Trafford!”

It seemed a wise response given Manchester United’s modern history, the noble stadium grounds and icons like Ferguson, Cantona, Ronaldo, Giggs, Scholes, Beckham and Shearer dotting the “Who’s Who” list of English futbol lore.

With ears perked at the question, Klingenberg (left in header photo) nodded in agreement with Lindsey (right), but whipped into her own expectations.

“I really want to see the [Olympic] swimming and gymnastics,” exclaimed the midfielder/fullback, who was preparing for her sophomore year as a Tar Heel during the 2008 Summer Olympics.

“You’re not going to be able to,” Lindsey said with a smile and a slight roll of the eyes, knowing the U.S. Olympic soccer team’s commitments in London would most likely prevent them from exploring other events.

“Stop with that—I WANT TO!” Klingenberg shot back defensively, also grinning.

“But you’re not,” Lindsey said flatly. “I’m still trying to find an in!” the never-say-die North Carolina alum said, winning the battle for the last word. 

Complete players

In a sporting world where “personality” can quickly erode into a disruptive, selfish ego—look at the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard—players with a strong, steady presence both on and off the field hold immense value.

And it’s really the off-the-field traits that Flash head coach Aaran Lines emphasized when speaking about Klingenberg and Lindsey—he’s witnessed the kind of influence that internationals like Christine Sinclair, Caroline Seger and Marta shed on present WNY captain McCall Zerboni, who wasn’t outworked this off-season, elevating her game into the realm of world-class.

Considering the average age on his 2012 roster is 24-years-old, Lines recognized the importance of having internationals Lindsey and Klingenberg around as much as possible to nurture the new crop of up-and-comers, even if their availability was, at best, sporadic.

“Lori’s very experienced—she really took on a ‘mother hen’ role when she was here,” Lines said. “She was in a difficult spot missing the preseason and really only being here a few days, but I thought she had an impact on the club.”

It’s noteworthy that the Flash’s record this year with Klingenberg and Lindsey in the XI was only 1-0-2, but in a WPSL Elite table that’s very tight toward the top, those five points (win vs. Philadelphia, draws vs. New England and New York) could have been the difference between facing Boston in the semifinals or the championship game. As it stands, WNY faces the New York Fury at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“On the field, I love the consistency that Lori brings to the team,” Flash defender Alex Sahlen added. “She has a real calming effect to our game and leads by example in every way on and off the field. For me, she is someone who has experienced a lot in the game from WUSA to W-League to WPS and National Team. She is a true professional and I just try to learn from her and the way she holds herself.”

Contrast Lindsey’s never-flustered demeanor with Klingenberg’s vibrancy. While “peppy” and “spirited” were two adjectives that immediately came to mind after the Philadelphia match, Lines and Sahlen chimed in with their takes.

“Off the field, Kling is easy going—she hangs out, likes to relax, gets her feet up,” Lines said. “With the team, she’s an energizer bunny and livens the locker room with her positivity and personality.”

“Kling is an intense competitor with a really happy go lucky personality off the field,” Sahlen echoed. “She really makes everyone comfortable around her and is really a unique person.”

On another level

On the field, both Lindsey and Klingenberg were in a different class than their WPSL Elite competition, which includes full-blown internationals, top level college players and blossoming late high school stars to compete in a pro/am top flight.

In the 57 minutes they played at Sahlen’s Stadium this season, their talents were on full-display. Lindsey’s poise in the center of midfield—her smart turns away from pressure, vision and understanding of the game kept Philadelphia reacting instead of initiating, and even though her distribution was left wanting in the first half, Lindsey was exceptional after the break. 

Klingenberg, who found the score-sheet against Philly with a chip she deemed “comical,” was the ultimate pest. The Fever simply couldn’t mark her, as the international’s constant, intelligent runs with and without the ball left Philadelphia panting on the flanks. Her versatility will play a role for U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Pia Sundhage in the coming years, as “Kling” can play forward or back on either wing.

“Training with the national team is an incredible experience, but I don’t necessarily get the field time like I do when I come back to play in WPSL Elite,” Klingenberg said after the match. “Gaining that experience and being able to get on the field and play with great players at a high level is going to help my game.”

Role as alternates and farewell

Unless one or more of Sundhage’s 18 players on the active Olympic roster are hurt, you won’t see Lindsey or Klingenberg suit up for the red, white and blue in the UK. The pair will be allowed to train regularly but will sit in the stands for the matches, which begin July 25 against France in Glasgow.

“There’s 18 of them and 4 of us…You do the math. It’s actually more impressive to be an alternate because it’s a more exclusive club,” Klingenberg wrote in her blog on Pitchside Report from London.

Still, there’s no substitute for representing one’s country in a world event, and it’s an opportunity in which the Western New York Flash is proud to be connected.

“[The Flash] have been super supportive—we want to give back to the Flash because they’ve been great to us,” Klingenberg said. “Like they said too, ‘It’s the freakin’ Olympics, you can’t pass that up. Go, this is awesome!’ We’re stoked for that, but we wanted to help while we were here.”

While it’s inhumane to root for a squad injury, American women’s soccer fans can at least rest with the knowledge that Lindsey and Klingenberg will be enjoying the time of their lives in London, representing club and country to the fullest, while perhaps sneaking into a Michael Phelps event along the way.

“Both players are top notch on the field, but their characters off the field are really incredible,” Sahlen reflected. “It’s really a testament to both of their hard work and commitment to the game with all they have accomplished. We wish them all the best in London and know they will represent us well!”

TAGGED: aaran lines, alex sahlen, london olympics, lori lindsey, meghan klingenberg, u.s women's olympic soccer, western new york flash, wny flash, wpsl elite

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