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From The Women's Game - Q&A: Becky Sauerbrunn and Meghan Klingenberg on the art of defending and staying in touch with your inner striker

Oh, to be a number 10.

On the most recent episode of the Men in Blazers podcast, "The Women's Game, Presented by Paramount+", Rog has a frank and enlightening conversation with Portland Thorns backline icons Becky Sauerbrunn and Meghan Klingenberg about what goes into becoming a defender at the highest levels of the game. Touching upon whether defensive players share similar personality traits and revealing whether either of the duo still harbors any hopes of becoming an attacker one day (spoiler alert: one of them does), the discussion is a humanly fascinating deep-dive into the selfless — and difficult — art of defending.

Rog also talks to the Thorns stars about their vantage point from the top of the NWSL table and how they plan to protect their lead heading into the season's homestretch. Read on to consume a huge helping of soccer knowledge, served up by Becky and Kling.

ROG: "Do you think there's a personality aspect to becoming a defender? Something that determines which kids get sorted into becoming defenders early on, from a mentality perspective, and which end up as strikers? Is there a psychological difference between the positions?"

BECKY: "A psychological difference? I'm thinking of things we share, Klingenberg, and I would say that we're both very gritty and tenacious and we don't quit on plays. But as far as personalities, we probably couldn't be more different."

MEGHAN: "That's so true."

BECKY: "You are crazy. You're wild. I'm not. I'm weird ..."

MEGHAN: "... Very." (Laughs.)

BECKY: "But we do share some very fundamental things."

MEGHAN: "What a lot of times happens, I don't know about you, Becky, but I was like 10 (shirt) or 7 or 11 until college, and even until after college. And then for the U-20 World Cup, I played outside back, and it kind of stuck. Were you always center back?"

BECKY: "No, I was center mid for a while, but I was definitely middle of the field, defensively-oriented for sure, early on."

MEGHAN: "Yeah, I was not. I don't know, I think sometimes it's interesting, we think that we can just take — this is something that really bothers me sometimes — we just think that we can take forwards and put them at outside back, or put them in the backline and that they're just going to be great because we want our outside backs to attack. And I'm like, 'Listen, that's not even half the job.' I mean, there's just so much that goes into defending. It's a whole unit within a unit. And you have to be symbiotic with your outside back, with your center mids, with your goalkeeper, with your center back, with the players that are in front of you. You have to communicate and move all of the pieces that are in front of you so that you can defend as a unit. And you still have to be able to attack, you have to be able to head, you have to be able to defend the back post, you have to be able to 1v1 defend, you have to be able to 1v1 attack, you have to be able to pass going forward. I mean, you have to be able to attack from the worst position on the field, OK? (When you’re attacking from outside back), you have a defender on your back, which is the touchline, you have defenders coming at you, and you have the least amount of people to pass to. It's a really difficult position, and then on top of that it's one of the most physically demanding positions you could have as well. It kind of bothers me just a little bit, if you couldn’t tell, when we just take a player and (say), 'Oh, they'll be great here because they can attack.' And it's like, ‘OK, that's great, I'm so happy that they can attack, but can they also do all of these other things really well?’ "

ROG: "Let me throw this one out. Arsene Wenger once told me, and I don't know if you relate, or don't relate, but he said, 'Players who love to win become attackers; players who hate to lose defend.' "

MEGHAN: "I think maybe I used to be that person, but now I don't think in terms of winning and losing anymore. Because I think that I used to put so much pressure on myself. And now I just think in terms of, ‘OK, why do I play?’ And that's what I play for, every single time I step on the field. So I play for my purpose, and I play for joy, and connection with my teammates, and to have fun. And if I do those things, then I know, most likely, we are going to win, because when I bring those things, I'm bringing my best. And when I bring my best, then I help everybody else bring their best, and when we all bring our best collectively, we're going to be a team that's really hard to beat."

BECKY: "Kling's on a higher plane of everything. Of learning, of living."

MEGHAN: (Laughs.) "Shut up."

BECKY: "For the common folk, for me, I think, as a defender, I see myself as more of a floor-raiser, as opposed to a ceiling-raiser. And so, as a floor-raiser, I think for me, I really hate to lose. And if I can get the people to hate to lose, kind of to Kling's point, you're probably going to win then."

ROG: "To all floor-raisers who are listening, unite! Last question on this one, because it is fascinating, is there an alternate universe somewhere out there where either of you imagines themselves as a striker?"

BECKY: "Oh, when I do my imagery before games, sometimes I'll get lost in doing this. Like, I just go for it, and I'm doing all these moves, I'm juking people, I chip the keeper, and then I have to (tell myself), 'OK, Becky, go back to tackling that player, connecting that pass.' I absolutely get lost just imagining myself scoring these golazos."

MEGHAN: "(Laughs.) The imagery that you're (Meghan) doing in the locker room is going to have a whole new meaning for me, as I'm sitting next to you watching you do your imagery. I can't wait. I'll be like, 'I see her, she's scoring that goal right there.' (Laughs.) I always try and tell our coaches that I'm ready for the 10 role. Or the 9 role. But I would probably choose 10. I just think it's so fun. It's like, the definition of freedom on the field to be 10. You get to join in every attack, whichever attack you want to. And you basically are not only the connector, but the creator, the final passer, the person that is the captain of the ship, essentially. The heart of the team where you're doing a lot of the work, but you're also creating a lot of the chances and the opportunities and the enjoyment. I love outside back, and I'm clearly protective of outside back, but if I could choose, then in an ideal world, I would play 10. So I think maybe after I'm done playing professionally and I retire, which is going to be 15 years off, that I'll possibly play 10 in whatever league I choose to play in next. And with Becky as my obvious center back."

BECKY: "Because I'll still be back there."

MEGHAN: "You can choose whatever you want!"

BECKY: "I choose center back."

MEGHAN: "That's what I thought."

ROG: "I love that approach to life, Kling, that you're constantly telling your coach that you're ready for the number 10 or the number 9 role. 'I just want to bring it up again. I'm always ready.' "

MEGHAN: "Yeah, they think I'm joking, but I'm not, Rog."

ROG: "Yeah, I know, and they're listening to this podcast and I see a change a-happening."

On the final weeks of the NWSL season:

ROG: "It's worth noting on this all-Portland podcast, that the Thorns have widened the gap between them and the rest. You're currently sitting three points in front at the top of the table. I know you're not quite there yet, but is there a moment where you let yourselves relax a little and start to focus on the playoffs? Or is it just head-down, assume nothing in this crazy league, all the way up until the end of the season?"

MEGHAN: "That second one for sure. It's one game at a time. We're honestly not looking ahead. We just want to make sure that every game we come to, we bring ourselves. We bring our will to the game, and the way that we want to play, and our style. And I think as long as we stay in that mindset, and don't look at the table, don't look ahead, then we'll be fine. This group is really great; it's a really fun group and I think it's a special group as well. But no, no chance we're looking ahead. We're at practice when we're at practice, and we're at games when we're at games, and that's all we can do right now, is just making sure that we're doing our best in the moment."

ROG: "Becky, does the (NWSL) Shield mean something to you? Or is it the ultimate prize (the NWSL championship) that everyone's focused on?"

BECKY: "I love the Shield. In all of my years playing in the NWSL, I had not won it until last year, and it was really important to me. It is hard to win this league. It is insanely hard, and it means something. And so when we won it in Houston, we celebrated. Kling bought bags of margaritas for all of us, we were going wild. It does mean something and we wanted to celebrate it."

MEGHAN: "Yeah, slap the bag."

Listen to the full episode of The Women's Game with Becky and Kling: