PORTLAND, Ore. — It's no secret that Portland has some strong ties to the U.S. Women’s National team. From the Portland Thorns to the University of Portland’s soccer program, Soccer City USA is pumping out some amazing athletes that have made their mark on the world of soccer.
Three UP grads competed in the World Cup tournament this year.
On Monday, the University of Portland women's soccer team hosted a day camp for girls ages 7 through 14. Kids got the chance to learn from college players such as junior centerback Olivia Dendinger.
"I grew up watching Megan Rapinoe and those kinds of players play here," Dendinger said. "We had season tickets. As a little girl, it was always a dream of mine to be at this school playing here."
Now, the Hillsboro native is part of the program that has helped train big names in women's soccer who compete on an international stage.
"I mean those shoes are definitely hard to fill, but it's so fun to play here on Merlo [Field], knowing that they've also played on this field too," Dendinger said.
University of Portland alumni Christine Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt both played for Canada in the tournament. If you don’t recognize Sinclair from her 19-year international career, you’ll likely know her as the Portland Thorns captain.
Then there's one of today’s most recognizable players: U.S. co-captain Megan Rapinoe.
"They just made me want to work harder," Dendinger said. "Inspired, just to be determined to get here and to play on the same platform that they've played on."
"They're inspiring a generation of young little girls and I think even boys as well," said University of Portland women's soccer head coach Michelle French.
French is a former University of Portland player and is heading into her second season as head coach of the women's team. While she didn't coach the World Cup players, she said their success is a testament to this program.
"There's been a lot of soccer knowledge in those soccer offices, and so I think we're giving those players the best opportunity to be successful on the field," French said.
French said Clive Charles built this program on tradition and expectations, and she hopes to carry on the legacy.
"We have a long list of players that have played both in World Cups and Olympics," French said. "You can’t get a better stadium, a better fan base, or a better soccer city to thrive in."
Seeing the Pilots alums make their mark across the globe doesn’t just bring well-deserved recognition to the program. It's also a catalyst for inspiration for current team members and the young players at Monday’s camp.
"I think they're also very inspired. They all watched it, they all raised their hands when we asked if they watched it or not," Dendinger said. "I think they'll continue to be inspired to play just as much as they do."
Whether it be at the World Cup, through these camps, or the next season on the field, these Portland players will continue to inspire the next generation of soccer stars.
"We feel like we can give them a little glimpse of what it means to fall in love with the game and then, at the same time, give them an awesome complex to be able to do that," French said.