A Category All Her Own
Ali Krieger's career has been defined by daunting setbacks and incredible success. As she nears the end of her playing days, the two-time World Cup champion isn't sure what's next—only that, as ever, she'll be ready.
The final touch of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup final held little drama. Someone had to be last on the ball that day, and in the waning seconds of a 2–0 game, with every player on the pitch exhausted and the outcome virtually secure, it was simply a matter of chance—of who happened to be in possession when the referee’s whistle blew.
It happened to be a second-half substitute a few weeks shy of her 35th birthday, a player who before this tournament hadn’t played a meaningful match with the U.S. women’s national team in more than two years, and whose selection to this World Cup roster defied every prediction. The people who pay close attention to these things thought Ali Krieger was done. Krieger wasn’t terribly optimistic herself.
Looking back, she knows it was effort, not optimism, that got her onto the field that day in France. More than once, both in her All-American stint at Penn State and in the 15 years since, she has been sidelined—by injuries that threatened her career and her long-term health, and by at least one head coach who decided, rather prematurely, that Krieger was washed up. Resilience, and a dedication to the sort of solitary work that ensured she’d always be ready, brought her back again and again.
Absent such a motivating setback now, Krieger ’07 Com is battling time. She turns 37 in July, and in a sport that at the highest level requires an almost unimaginable degree of conditioning, she knows she can’t do it much longer. Giving it up will be hard, but you believe her when she tells you it will be fine, because even accounting for her intense drive and competitiveness, her life is about so much more than the game. She has a blossoming family and causes for which to advocate, and a future with an enviable array of options. “Right now,” she says, “I’m just focused on being a good mom and a good wife, a good teammate and a good player. And then I’ll figure out the rest.”
Krieger is on the phone from Orlando, her personal and professional home since she joined the National Women’s Soccer League’s Orlando Pride in 2016. Over the course of a long conversation last winter and another in the spring, she recounts the remarkable highs, occasionally terrifying lows, and unexpected twists of a lifetime in the game. Our second conversation took place in March, shortly after she and her wife and teammate, Ashlyn Harris, announced the adoption of their first child, a daughter named Sloane.
By mid-May, even as she waited to hear whether she’d get another long-shot call-up for the pandemic-delayed summer Olympics, Krieger was back on the pitch for the Pride, starting—along with Harris—in Orlando’s season opener. She is among the faces of a franchise that includes national teammates Harris, Alex Morgan, and Sydney Leroux, and Brazilian star Marta; even among that group, Krieger’s self-assured visage is the first face you see when you visit the Pride’s website. She played all 90 minutes in a 1–1 draw in the team’s opener, another day at the office in her 16th year as a pro.
She couldn’t have imagined any such career as a shy, athletic girl growing up in the northern Virginia suburbs in the 1980s and ’90s, when the idea of a thriving women’s professional soccer league seemed about as feasible as the high-profile marriage of two female athletes. Krieger knows that if she’d been born a generation earlier, neither would have been possible, and she’s conscious of not taking her timing—or the courage and hard work of the women who came before her—for granted. That sense of obligation, she says, will drive her for as long as she plays, and in whatever she does after that.
The challenge now—and a challenge is something Krieger has never shied away from—is figuring out everything that comes next.
Sports weren’t so much an option for the Krieger kids as they were an inevitability. Mom and dad were college athletes turned physical education teachers and youth-team coaches, and so Kyle Krieger and his little sister, Alexandra—their mother still calls her Alex—grew up immersed in games. How could they not?
“We were both coaching when I had the kids, so we brought the kids to practice, brought them to the games,” says their mother, Debbie Alongi. “They’re only 14 months apart, so they did everything together. That’s how it started.”
Ali got her first formal playing experience when she was just 4, playing up on 5-year-old Kyle’s rec-league team. “I just wanted to hang out with my brother all the time,” Krieger says. Alongi remembers her daughter on the field at halftime of one of Kyle’s games, “just messing around with the ball, so I said, ‘Is it OK if she joins the team?’” The coach said he didn’t see why not; there was no rule that girls couldn’t play.
Shadowing her brother and holding her own against the boys would be themes that ran throughout Krieger’s childhood. Unsurprisingly, the game came easy to Krieger; Kyle was pretty good, too, and as outgoing as his sister was quiet —“he talked for both of them,” their mother says—but the siblings complemented each other and grew to be (and remain) best friends. They both stayed active in sports, even competing together on a power tumbling team, and Krieger also played volleyball. But soccer was her strength, and the older she got, the more she excelled.
Her father, Ken, coached Krieger at the club level from grade school through the end of her high school career, guiding the Prince William Sparklers to a level that belied the team’s cutesy name: Most of the players ended up signing with Division I college programs. As she reached high school and started racking up accomplishments—the U.S. Olympic development program, all-district and all-state teams, and, as a senior, state player of the year honors—it was clear that Krieger would have her pick of colleges.
She only had to pick the college.
As she remembers it, Krieger and her dad were at a sports bar not far from home, talking through the pros and cons of her options. She’d narrowed her list to Wake Forest and Penn State—both good schools with solid programs, both far enough from home to feel like she was getting away, but still close enough that her parents could come to her games. At some point, her father told her to turn around and look up; hanging between a couple of wall-mounted TVs was a Penn State flag. Krieger swears that at the time, it was the only college banner in the restaurant. It felt something like a sign.
From the beginning, her success in blue and white felt destined. Krieger started and played in every game as a central midfielder her first two seasons, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2003 and first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2004. “She was an athletic specimen,” says Carmelina Moscato ’06 Lib, a teammate and college housemate of Krieger’s. “We would do our fitness testing, and I remember her coming in and absolutely blowing everyone out of the water. But it was also just her work rate—she was blue-collar, and so humble, you wouldn’t know she was an emerging superstar. I don’t even think she knew it.”
As a junior and co-captain in 2005, Krieger helped lead the Lions to a 19–0 start and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Then, in a scrimmage against a men’s club team two days before the NCAA opener, the newly named All-American got her legs tangled with an opponent and heard a pop—she’d suffered a fractured fibula, ruling her out for the rest of the season. The team made it to the national semifinals without her, but the dream of a championship was over.
And then she nearly died.
She’d been on medication after having surgery on her broken leg in November, then she’d been on airplanes over the winter break. Not long after she returned to campus in January, she started feeling off—light-headed and short of breath. Krieger was concerned enough to go to the emergency room, where tests revealed that the blood clots that had formed in her leg after surgery had moved to her lungs and heart. She remembers doctors telling her that if she’d gone to bed at home that night instead of coming to the hospital, she “probably wouldn’t have woken up.”
Instead, nine months later, she was back on the field for her senior season, this time as a defender. She was one of the best midfielders in the country, but there was a hole in the team’s back line, and Krieger volunteered to fill it. It harkened back to her days playing club soccer for her dad, who would occasionally make the girls play out of position to broaden their skill sets. Krieger certainly didn’t suffer for the change: She was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and finished her college career by repeating as an All-American.
Graduation loomed in the spring of 2007, a moment that came a few years after the dissolution of the trail-blazing but short-lived Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) and two years before the scheduled launch of Women’s Professional Soccer. But there was the national team, the sport’s pinnacle and one that Krieger realized she could allow herself to dream of making. “I don’t know if I believed that going into college, but I felt like that experience helped me become a professional,” she says. “Getting those accolades in college, it was like, maybe I am good enough to pursue this.”
The arrival of Erica Walsh that spring as the new Penn State women’s soccer coach didn’t figure to have much impact on a player who had just exhausted her eligibility, but Walsh (now Dambach) would prove to have a huge impact on Krieger’s career. It started with a simple request: Could she come work out with the team that spring? Walsh, newly arrived on campus and in the early days of trying to establish the standards for a program she’s since guided to 11 Big Ten regular-season titles and the 2015 national championship, didn’t have to think long about letting a player of Krieger’s reputation hang around. “She had a great personality, and I was just impressed by the work she was putting in,” Dambach says now. “She’s blue-collar, put your head down, get to work, no complaints; she’s my type of player. If I were to script a Penn State player, she is the script.”
Krieger went on to play briefly with the Washington Freedom, a club that survived the death of the WUSA in a semiprofessional form, but it was her 2007 signing with top German club 1. FFC Frankfurt that signaled the true start of her professional career. Other than a brief return to the Freedom in the summer of 2009, she spent five years in Germany, testing herself against some of the best players in Europe. By the time she was done, a U.S. women’s pro league with staying power had emerged, and Krieger’s dream of making the national team had come true.
The first call-up came in January 2008, when Krieger started and played the full 90 minutes in the national team’s 4–0 victory over Canada. She made one more appearance in 2008, not enough to earn a spot on that summer’s Olympic roster, but enough that she was now in the mix. She didn’t appear with the national team again until 2010, but even as one of the youngest and least-experienced players on the roster, she made key appearances to help the team qualify for the following year’s World Cup.
And then came the breakthrough. Krieger started every game and played every minute in the 2011 World Cup, locking in her place as the national team’s first-choice right back. She scored the decisive penalty in the team’s quarterfinal victory over Brazil, a dream-come-true moment diminished only by the Americans’ loss to Japan in the final. Still, she was named to Fox Soccer’s World Cup Best XI, chosen as the best right back in the tournament—credit for which Krieger shared with Walsh, who was serving as an assistant coach with the national team. “I don’t think I would’ve done as well in 2011 without her,” Krieger says.
Four years later, Krieger was once again a full-time starter, a stalwart of the defense that allowed just three goals in the tournament en route to the 2015 World Cup title. She was a world champion, one of the best players on the best team on the planet. She was also a star of the fledgling National Women’s Soccer League, signed since the NWSL’s inaugural season in 2013 to the Washington Spirit.
None of it had come easy. A serious knee injury suffered during the 2012 Olympic qualifying tournament cost Krieger the chance to play a role in the U.S. team’s march to the gold medal. In 2015, a few months before the World Cup, a clash of heads with an opponent during an NWSL game left her briefly unconscious, concussed, and lying prone on the field for nearly eight minutes while receiving treatment, and it ultimately cost her nearly three months of NWSL games. But even accounting for all the injuries, it might be an insult that sits heaviest with Krieger.
The news was delivered during a brief phone call in the spring of 2017: Krieger was being taken off contract with the national team. She was less than two years removed from playing a key role in that dominant World Cup defensive showing and just a year removed from a spot on the FIFA Women’s World XI, giving her a valid claim to being one of the four best defenders in the world. With 98 caps—the soccer term for appearances with one’s national team—she was also just two caps shy of 100, a milestone it suddenly looked like she might never reach. “I got fired,” she says, “for no reason I’m aware of.”
The tension is still evident in Krieger’s voice, even with the time that has passed, and even given the national team callback that came in 2019, just a few months before the World Cup. There wasn’t an explanation that time either, only the implicit acknowledgment from U.S. coach Jill Ellis that despite the unceremonious dismissal two years earlier, the team needed her. It would be in a reserve role this time, and Krieger would make just three appearances in the 2019 tournament, all as a second-half substitute. But each of those appearances was another chance to do her job, once again on the biggest stage.
“I think all the best athletes have to overcome hardship and challenges, but I would put Ali in a category all her own,” Dambach says. “Whether it was physical or mental, disappointment, frustration, she experienced them all in a really deep way. I also think it speaks volumes that Jill thought she could pull her in that close to the World Cup and believed she would be ready. It tells me she knew she could trust her.”
As of this writing, Ali Krieger stands at 108 caps, one of 40 Americans to have reached the 100-cap milestone, and one of just 20 to own two World Cup medals. Regardless of whether she adds to either total, she’ll go down as one of the most decorated players in U.S. soccer history. The history she makes from now on figures to be increasingly off the field.
Sports Illustrated called Krieger and Harris’ December 2019 wedding “the American soccer social event of the decade,” but that arguably undersells an event that got a substantial write-up and photo spread in Vogue. What started as a fast friendship when they met at a 2010 national team training camp blossomed in the ensuing years: teammates on the national team and in stints with the Washington Spirit and Orlando Pride, they hinted at their relationship when they attended teammate Alex Morgan’s wedding together in 2015. They were engaged in 2018 but kept it secret until the following spring, when they confirmed their engagement for a story in People magazine. Their World Cup success, social media–friendly fashion sense, and shared appearances on everything from the cover of Allure magazine and the ESPYS to the GLAAD Media Awards and the CBS TV show Madam Secretary have confirmed their crossover appeal. The couple even have a hashtag-ready nickname—“Krashlyn”—that speaks to their celebrity status.
Krieger never fully grew out of her childhood introversion, but she’s figured out how to balance her natural reticence with her and Harris’ public lives—or at least, the aspects they choose to share. Krieger is confident and outspoken on an array of issues, regularly using her social media presence—she has 924,000 Instagram followers, and nearly as many on Twitter—to address gender pay equity, racial justice, and LGBTQ+ rights, while also offering carefully curated glimpses into her home life. All of it, she says, is done with intent, part of a conscious effort to be the sort of role model she herself never had.
“I know it sounds funny, because we’ve made our lives super public, but I do try to keep most things private,” Krieger says. “But that visibility is so huge in helping people see that it’s OK to love who you love. I want to share specifics about my life and my relationship because I know it saves lives.”
The more mundane concerns of life after soccer will present themselves soon enough, and Krieger will have plenty of options for how to fill her time: She can envision a front- office role with an NWSL club; she’s already earned a U.S. Soccer coaching license; and last season she started working with the broadcast team for Orlando City SC, the Pride’s Major League Soccer counterpart. There are many roles that could allow her to stay involved in the game. “Or maybe I’ll find a completely different passion,” she says. “Event planning or something. Who knows?”
Whatever her next steps, Moscato expects her friend and former teammate to succeed. The qualities that have brought Krieger so much success—“the kindness, the humility, the quiet courage”—she sees as constants. “She’s grown and stepped into her confidence, but she’s the same person,” Moscato says. “Her core has not changed.”