A few weeks ago, U.S. soccer defender Stephanie Cox returned to University of Portland's Merlo Field to watch the Pilot women play in the Nike Portland Invitational. As she walked through the stadium, the UP season-ticket holders began applauding her.

It is no wonder then that on Saturday, very soon after the U.S. drew 1-1 against Canada in Kansas City, Kan., the former Pilot already was looking forward to Thursday night's friendly against Canada at Jeld-Wen Field.

'We have such an awesome fan base,' Cox says of the UP supporters. 'I know they'll come out on Thursday. I was thinking about that on Saturday in Kansas City, how special it would be to be in Portland and have those fans cheering for me and for the U.S. team. I'm excited. It's amazing coming back. The fans are so special, and I just love playing in Portland.'

With Portland, she played under her maiden name of Stephanie Lopez.

Cox laughs and has a very wide and contagious smile when asked if people are surprised that she is the same person who played for UP.

'Up on the wall and behind the stadium they have my name as Stephanie Cox,' she says. 'But, yeah, that was a bit confusing, playing as Stephanie Lopez and now with the U.S. team it's Cox. But the knowledgeable fans, which there are so many in Portland, who know the women's game and follow women's soccer, they probably know.'

Cox has been married to her husband, former UP baseball player Brian Cox, since December 2007. She still takes a lot of pride in the name Lopez, though. Especially because she is the first player of Hispanic descent to make a major impact for the U.S. national team.

'I take a lot of pride in my maiden name and just being a role model for all of the Hispanic girls who are hoping to one day play on this team,' Cox says.

To say that Cox was a star while at UP from 2003-07 would be an understatement. She was good enough that her senior year she had to miss the first 10 matches of the season while training and playing in the 2007 World Cup.

As a 21-year-old in the '07 World Cup, Cox made a huge impact as a starter on the backline. She started all six matches and played all but 45 minutes of the tournament. She was especially brilliant on set pieces. Her corner kicks helped create two goals.

Since then, Cox has seen much less playing time. In the 2011 World Cup, she had one assist but played just 67 minutes in two matches. With the 2012 London Olympics fast approaching, Cox is hoping to re-earn a starting role.

'I've been in and out of some lineups, so I really hope to start, find a certain position,' Cox says, adding that 'it's just an honor being a part of this team in whatever role and capacity I can to help this team win a gold medal.'

Fighting for a spot in the starting 11 comes with physical, mental and emotional pressure every day. Cox has had little problem handing it, though.

'It's a challenging environment,' she says. 'You're always kind of in a tryout position just to try to prove yourself to the coaching staff. You have to be strong and every day go out there and give it your best.'

If she does have the opportunity to start and play significant minutes again, Cox has no doubt that she can be successful and help the U.S. win matches.

'I've proved that in the past,' she says. 'I hopefully bring a little bit of offensive flair from the backline. And I think that the players on the field have confidence when I come into the game because I do have experience. Hopefully that will happen a lot this coming year.'

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