When Ali Krieger was dropped from the U.S. women's soccer team two years ago, she was convinced her tenure was over after 98 caps.
But in mid-March, a familiar name came up on the former Penn State star’s phone. It was Jill Ellis, inviting the 34-year-old back to the program. Then, in April, Krieger earned her 99th cap. With the U.S. short on right backs heading toward the World Cup, Krieger realized her 100th was within sight — as well as something much bigger.
“I think it would have been all jokes if you had called me back, given me 99 caps and then sent me home again,” Krieger said. "But I knew [Ellis] wasn’t going to do that. She said, ‘I’m bringing you in as a player on this team, not as a training player, and I need you to know that,’ and she said, ‘I’d thought about this for a while, and I need your experience, your professionalism, and I want you there.’ "
In early May, Ellis texted Krieger and told her to call. Krieger thought it meant she missed the cut. But her Orlando Pride teammates Ashlyn Harris and Alex Morgan believed the opposite — Krieger suspects they already knew — and said to respond right away. She did, and learned she was heading to her third World Cup.
“I really didn’t think this two months ago," Krieger said. "It’s a dream come true to be back.”
Though the odds were slim, Krieger never fully gave up hope. She kept up a rigorous training regimen with colleagues from the Pride and MLS’s Orlando City, which are under the same ownership.
“I would get up every day and work as hard as I would if I were with the national team,” Krieger said. “I didn’t really have a reason why. … I just could only control myself and my work towards staying fit, fast, strong, and being prepared for anything, and for this opportunity.”
After the World Cup roster was announced, Krieger finally hit the century mark in a friendly on May 16. She was flooded with congratulations from teammates and a fan base that is among the most devoted of any national team player.
“I’m so grateful for all the support and the love of everyone. They probably helped me get back to where I am,” she said. “Is it draining sometimes? Uh huh, because I’m not on social media all the time. I try not to just pour myself into it. I need to go outside and explore, and I think so do they at times. … But I really appreciate the support, and we all do, or else we wouldn’t be here, I think, without them.”
Krieger’s biggest supporter is Harris, who in addition to being her teammate is also her fiancée. They dated privately for years and went public in March, a few months after Harris proposed. The wedding is set for December.
Some day, it won’t be news that players on the U.S. women’s soccer team are engaged to each other. Perhaps it will happen on the U.S. men’s team, too. But it remains rare for now and the couple are fine with the extra attention.
“It’s really nice to be able to share this moment with her and make these memories with her, and really have someone in your corner that understands the [training] process and how tiring it is,” Krieger said. “Sometimes I feel bad because I would be so emotional, and maybe tough at times to be around, because I was so angry, really going through it and struggling. With her support, she really helped get me out of that hole and helped me blossom into the woman I am now.”
Harris is equally thrilled.
“It feels so good, and it feels so light,” she said. “For so long, it felt like this burden, and it was so heavy because we couldn’t tell people. Now that it’s out there and it’s open, I think we can just genuinely be the best versions of ourselves.”