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Rossi: Klingenberg to become Pittsburgh's next Suzie

| Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015, 10:21 p.m.
Meghan Klingenberg, Gibsonia native and member of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup National Women's Soccer team, poses for a selfie with Riley Allman, 11, of Gibsonia when Klingenberg made an appearance at Market Square, Downtown, along with the World Cup Trophy on Friday, Aug. 14, 2015.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Meghan Klingenberg, Gibsonia native and member of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup National Women's Soccer team, poses for a selfie with Riley Allman, 11, of Gibsonia when Klingenberg made an appearance at Market Square, Downtown, along with the World Cup Trophy on Friday, Aug. 14, 2015.

Hers was a court, not a pitch. Even now, having tuned into the World Cup for the same reason many of us did (“because of her”), Suzie McConnell-Serio could not say a lot about the sport she was watching earlier this summer.

But she knows what she is seeing from Meghan Klingenberg.

“I think she's very significant for young girls right now,” McConnell-Serio said.

“She's done it here in Western Pennsylvania, in college and at the highest level. When you have somebody local who's had that kind of success, the young girls around here have an understanding that, ‘Hey, that can be me.'

“She's paving the way for young soccer players.”

The way to Heinz Field, where Sunday afternoon the United States women's national team will contest a friendly against Costa Rica, was congested by obligations for Klingenberg since the exhibition match was announced. A photo shoot here, an autograph signing there; here a soccer camp, there a media tour, everywhere something to sell upwards of 41,000 tickets.

Had Taylor Swift needed to work so hard, her management team would never have booked the Steelers' stadium. The Rolling Stones could barely be bothered to pose for a promo picture in front of a superimposed background of The Point.

Stars have spent the summer kicking around our North Shore.

Before returning to show off it and other parts of her beloved Pittsburgh, Klingenberg spent the summer defending for the World Cup-winning national team, playing with Houston in the National Women's Soccer League and handling each and every responsibility that comes with being the face of Pittsburgh soccer.

Publicly, that face always is shown to be smiling or screaming. Do not mistake Klingenberg's as the face of a burdened 'Burgher — especially not this weekend, even if she has served her sport equally as player, pitchwoman and ambassador.

“If I was a guy, this wouldn't rest on my shoulders, and people wouldn't think, ‘This is what you have to do,' ” Klingenberg said.

“But I don't mind doing it, because I love my sport and I'm passionate about it. I'm passionate about Pittsburgh. I'm passionate about growing the game.

“It's just different. And you have to realize that it is different and approach it differently.”

She was not speaking in sports cliche. The word “passionate” was stressed, Klingenberg's voice spiking, each time. Though she left out “for women than men,” her pause after “just different” made for an easy inference of the omission.

The Pittsburgh part of Klingenberg has been recognizable to anybody who has followed her since the dominant days at Pine-Richland. Her unselfishness was on display as she played practically everywhere (except in goal) at North Carolina, where she won two national titles. She has shown perseverance by playing for five clubs, including one in Sweden, as a professional.

And her passion — that scream comes during times good and bad — was displayed across millions of television screens during games played by the national team.

Depending on how you classify a Pittsburgh athlete, Klingenberg may or may not be our best one going.

She is the generational heir to the woman who belongs on Pittsburgh's Mount Washington of sporting icons. McConnell-Serio, now the women's basketball coach at Pitt, charted the course for female athletes in this region.

Only 27, Klingenberg was born during McConnell-Serio's last year Penn State, where she was the first first-team All-American for the women's program. Klingenberg missed all the prior brilliance by McConnell-Serio, including a state title at Seton-La Salle. She can't remember McConnell-Serio's two Olympics or the professional debut with Cleveland at 31, after marriage and childbirth. She scarcely recalls the early coaching stints at Oakland Catholic or in the WNBA with Minnesota. She was busy during the days at Duquesne. She was preparing for the World Cup as Pitt returned to the NCAA Tournament.

“I know, obviously, how good of a player she was,” Klingenberg said. “I know she's a legend in Pittsburgh.”

Now 49, that legend lives in a world where women's basketball is big business at the collegiate and professional levels. She can surf channels on TV to find women pitching softballs, hitting golf and tennis balls, coaching as assistants in the NBA and NFL, and kicking soccer balls and, in the case of Ronda Rousey, kicking butt.

“It's amazing the opportunities that are being created for women,” McConnell-Serio said. “They're being judged on their ability, their knowledge of the game, which is how they should be judged as athletes.”

Were they to talk, McConnell-Serio could say a lot to the face of soccer in Pittsburgh.

But the face of women's sports in Western Pennsylvania knows Klingenberg deserves a chance to pave a path all her own.

That is how Meghan will become the next Suzie.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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