Connections abound between US and Sweden

Meghan Klingenberg, left, Christen Press, center, and U.S. coach Jill Ellis speak at a news conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, on Thursday, June 11, 2015, in advance of the U.S. soccer team’s match against Sweden at the Women’s World Cup. (AP Photo/Anne M. Peterson).
Meghan Klingenberg, left, Christen Press, center, and U.S. coach Jill Ellis speak at a news conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, on Thursday, June 11, 2015, in advance of the U.S. soccer team’s match against Sweden at the Women’s World Cup. (AP Photo/Anne M. Peterson).

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — Sweden’s Caroline Seger said she’d received a text from U.S. defender Meghan Klingenberg before the World Cup match between the two teams, but wouldn’t reveal its content.

No, it wasn’t trash talk.

“I just asked if she would like to trade jerseys after the game,” Klingenberg explained Thursday. “And she said yes. Still friends!”

That prompted an “Awwww,” from coach Jill Ellis.

The second-ranked U.S. women face No. 5 Sweden on Friday night in the second group-stage match for both teams. The Americans opened the World Cup with a 3-1 victory over Australia, while Sweden settled for a 3-all tie with Nigeria after taking a 2-0 lead.

The most talked-about connection between the two teams is Sweden coach Pia Sundhage, who used to coach the U.S. women. But there are other friendships that cut across both teams.

Klingenberg played professionally for two seasons with the Swedish side Tyreso Fotbollsforening before returning to the United States last year to play for the Houston Dash of the NWSL.

Likewise, forward Christen Press played for Tyreso FF after a season with Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC, in 2012.

“It’s a really special place to me. I really love Sweden: I love the league, I love my team and I love the players that I played with,” Klingenberg said. “So we know them really well. They are incredible friends, they are incredible people. I think it adds a little bit extra edge to the game. It kind of gives a sense of bragging rights. So we’re really excited about it, we know they’re going to be a good opponent and we know it’s going to be fun.”

Press had gone to Sweden to ply her craft in hopes of earning a spot on the U.S. team. But any fond feelings she has for the country and its players will be temporarily pushed aside on match day.

“I owe a lot to the country for being here this moment. I think it really helped my career, and helped me grow as a human being as well. But this is the World Cup, and I think that trumps everything. It’s an important game in our bracket and that’s where all of my focus is,” Press said.

Most of the crowd at the match will be behind the United States: A decidedly patriotic horde has crossed the border to see the team to Winnipeg.

“We absolutely love it. It’s been incredible, but if they could just keep it down a little bit when I’m trying to tell Pinoe (Megan Rapoine) instructions, that would be great,” Klingenberg joked, pouring on the sarcasm. “They can bring it back up afterward.”

Some other happenings at the Women’s World Cup:

FEELING 22: The youngest member of the U.S. women’s national team is soaking up her rookie World Cup experience.

Morgan Brian ran onto the field for the first match against Australia and veteran defender Kelley O’Hara turned to her and told her to enjoy the experience.

“I think that’s something I’m focusing on, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lot of people, and to keep that in perspective,” said Brian, 22.

This has been a whirlwind to say the least.

Brian played for Virginia in the women’s College Cup final in early December before accompanying the U.S. team to Brazil for a tournament just before the holidays. She kicked off this year by winning her second straight Hermann Trophy as the top women’s soccer player, and was the first overall pick in the NWSL draft by the Houston Dash.

Now she’s at the World Cup, joining seven other first-timers on the U.S. team. Brian played in the 2012 U-20 World Cup in Japan, so she’s not exactly unfamiliar with the international stage.

FIFA, FIFA, FIFA: The FIFA Women’s World Cup is going on in Canada while the scandal surrounding soccer’s international governing body continues to unfold.

On Thursday, FIFA communications director Walter De Gregorio, closely tied to embattled FIFA President Sepp Blatter since 2011, stepped down.

“FIFA is going through difficult times,” Blatter wrote on Thursday. “This makes me all the more proud that our organization runs smoothly in a crisis.”

In his weekly online column Blatter appeared to be referring to the smoothly-run Under-20 and Women’s World Cup tournaments being played in New Zealand and Canada.

But the latest development came as the European Parliament called on Blatter to step aside immediately and let FIFA appoint an interim leader.

Last week Blatter announced he plans to resign in the face of the scandal that U.S. prosecutors allege involves more than $150 million in bribes. Swiss prosecutors are leading a separate probe into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests.

The election to replace Blatter is expected between December and March.

RECAPPING THURSDAY: Host Canada played in a stormy showcase match, with Canadian coach John Herdman and his former team, New Zealand, playing to a scoreless draw in Group A. In the earlier group match at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, China beat the Netherlands 1-0 on Wang Lisi’s late stoppage-time goal. … In Group B in Ottawa, Thailand defeated Ivory Coast 2-1, and Norway pulled to a 1-1 draw with top-ranked Germany, one of the favorites in Canada.

UP NEXT: Before the highly anticipated U.S. match against Sweden, Australia faces Nigeria in Group D in Winnipeg. Switzerland plays Ecuador in Group C in Vancouver, British Columbia, followed by defending champions Japan against Cameroon.

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