For a while, it seemed as though Ali Krieger’s US national team career was over. She wasn’t getting call ups any more, but then the 2019 World Cup rolled around, and she was back in the roster. Maybe it was panic on the coaching staff’s part, realizing just how thin their fullback pool was and seeing a World Cup-tested veteran defender sitting right there. Whatever the reason, she’s back, and is now getting a second chance of sorts under Vlatko Andonovski, who asked Krieger to start at outside back, then rotate in to center back in the United States’ Olympic qualifying game against Panama.
Krieger said after the game that she’s been working on evolving her game along with the team’s changing style of play, particularly under Andonovksi. “We’re building out of the back a lot now with this team,” she said after the game, “So a lot of the game starts with our center backs, and so I feel really confident and comfortable on the ball. And I’ve been working a lot on my entry passes so I’m hoping that I’m connecting at a high percentage with that.”
That’s certainly going to be crucial for her future with the national team, whatever that may be. Defenders are now the first attackers on the pitch, whether they help build through the middle or drop a Dahlkemper-style dime over everyone’s heads. Krieger was enthused as she described the work she’s been doing to keep up with the changing needs of the team, saying that she loved the challenge.
“We all really love the plan that Vlatko always presents and we’re all on board and it’s fun and enjoyable and I think you can see that,” she said. “Scoring goals and connecting everyone is a part of it. I think our passing has gotten better. We’re actually trying to put a name on the pass, and on our crosses, we’re trying to pick people out instead of just lump it in there. So I feel like there’s a bit of a change in the mentality in that way and it’s really nice to see because that’s where the game is going.”
Krieger is doing all of this work right in front of her wife, Ashlyn Harris, who spent the game against Panama mostly focused on keeping the defense organized, which in turn kept Panama almost entirely locked in their own half. But as any goalkeeper will tell you, those games when you’re not having to face many shots can be just as dangerous as busy games, because you have to spend more energy staying tightly focused on action that is playing out on the other end of the field. It only takes second to relax and get caught flat-footed on the counter. Harris also politely but very firmly shut down the notion that it might be boring playing a team like Panama, dismissing one comment from media in the mixed zone that she needed a hot chocolate and a chair.
“That’s not really the way a lot of people should look at it,” she said. “I think for us, I want to respect my opponent. So I don’t think that’s a valid thing to say. I think Panama, it was a great team. And they come out, and they do everything they can with the resources they’re given. So a credit to them. They were trying to keep up ‘til the end. I respect the last two teams we’ve played greatly. It just shows if you invest in your program what can happen. I even watched Haiti’s game today and I’ve been really impressed with their growth. So if we keep putting money into these women’s teams and these women’s programs, you’re going to see them continue to climb and be better and that’s what we’re trying to push right now across the board, is to keep investing in women. Keep investing in these federations, so they can put on a good product out on the field.”
Harris also stayed focus on the game when asked about her recent wedding to teammate Ali Krieger and their connection as life partners as well as work partners, particularly in maintaining the critical goalkeeper-defender connection. “For me, that really doesn’t play a factor at all,” she said. “I’ve played with Becky Sauerbrunn longer than I’ve played with anyone else on this team, so that kind of stuff doesn’t really have anything to do with it. I see these people more than I see my family so the connection is there. The communication just has to be precise and there can’t be any situations where it leaves people unsure of what I’m doing so they don’t know what to do. My job is just to go in there confidence and lead, and continue to hold a high standard no matter what team we’re playing and that’s just what I did tonight.”
Still, she said being asked about marrying Krieger was a part of their work towards greater visibility for LGBTQ people. “I think what it all boils down to is if you have a special gift to move people, whether it’s what you do on the field or off, you use that gift,” she said.
For Krieger, being asked openly about her wife is a positive. “It is nice, to an extent,” said Krieger. “You know we’re here, and my focus is my job. When I’m here and then at home obviously things are different. But we’re in the workplace and we have a really great balance, work-life balance, I think we’ve developed that over the years. But I think it is important that we are visible, especially in this space, and for you guys to just ask normally is really refreshing too, because it’s like any other couple. We’re just two people who really love each other and care about each other and are sharing our life together. We just so happen to be in the same workspace and play on the same team, and we’re able to separate that and be professional here, and that’s what we care about most.”