In just a few short days, Ali Krieger will play the final regular season game of her professional career with NJ/NY Gotham FC. Her retirement marks the end of a long, successful career that spanned many years and multiple continents and truly marks the end of an era in U.S. Soccer.
Listing her accomplishments would be an article in and of itself. From a strong collegiate career at Penn State to a history-making treble with FFC Frankfurt in the Frauen-Bundesliga, from many seasons in the National Women’s Soccer League to two World Cup titles, Krieger has amassed countless accolades on the pitch, fought for equal pay off the pitch, and truly accomplished so much over the course of her soccer career.
But this article isn’t about the trophies or the glory, it’s about so much more than that. Because that fact of the matter is, her legacy cannot be measured only in minutes on the pitch. The lessons that she has taught us are more than just technique and skill. This article is about how Ali Krieger has made us feel and the mark she has forever left on the sport and in the hearts of soccer fans around the world.
After leaving the Orlando Pride, Krieger joined a Gotham FC side in 2022 who, the previous year had made their first playoffs since the NWSL’s inaugural season in 2013. Hoping that the team would use that momentum for a strong run, Gotham instead found themselves at the bottom of the table and in need of a true refresh in 2023.
While the team’s front office worked tirelessly to bring in a slew of new players and fresh coaching staff, one particular change stuck out to fans: Ali Krieger had been named captain of the team.
Captaining a squad is no easy task, especially one that so desperately needed a boost following a disappointing season. The newly minted captain took the task in stride, and her leadership played a large part in propelling Gotham to a top-team and consistent play-off contender for the entire 2023 season.
From her first game with Gotham in 2022, it was clear how important she would be for not only the back line, but the team as a whole. Although Gotham lost in that opening match, Krieger’s calmness, positioning, vision of the game, and leadership on the backline was immediately apparent. She was undoubtedly the player of the match.
Her appointment as captain in 2023 was certainly unsurprising. In fact, she was unanimously elected by her fellow teammates to the position. From the start, she knew the team had a tough task ahead to dig out from last place, but she was ready to take on the challenge and do whatever it took to lead Gotham to success.
“The mentality this year was to be at the top of the table and win, I knew that was going to be a tough job for me,” Krieger told AllForXI. “I was willing to take that on because I feel like I can be supper supportive yet demanding, and I think that’s exactly what the team needed at the time.”
It was apparent how important she was to the success of this team, and as the 2023 season went on, her teammates would always beam when asked about her leadership.
“She instills so much confidence in me and has that mentality of, ‘I have your back no matter what,’” said Gotham rookie defender Jenna Nighswonger in an interview given to The Local W in August. “Playing in a new position and knowing that the person behind you has your back no matter what happens gives me the confidence to go forward, defend better, and makes me want to be a better teammate.”
Since joining Gotham in 2022, Krieger has demonstrated a team-first mentality that made her the obvious choice for captain in 2023. In fact, Gotham FC head coach Juan Carlos Amoros said she is the best captain of any team he’s ever coached.
“I’m just speechless about her. She’s been an unbelievable captain for the club,” said Amoros. “Every single day she sets the standards in training not only in performance but attitude and leadership making sure that the players can be the very best they can be.”
Going into the 2023 season, Krieger was ready to be a leader on the team whether she had the armband or not. On a team full of veteran players, the newly-minted captain leaned on the other leaders at Gotham this year to help get the job done.
“We’re all taking this on together and keeping focus on the task at hand and wanting to win every game,” she said. “We have such a great group of players and we all get along so well that it’s just refreshing to show up to work every day and lead a group of talented, badass women who are also great human beings. I feel so lucky and grateful every day to be in this environment with them.”
From helming the team on game day to ensuring each and every player is taken care of, she has visibly put her team first. Even in a year-long celebration of her career, her teammates have consistently noted how Krieger’s number one priority is the success of the team.
“I’m so honored and grateful to have been her teammate, I wish it could have been [for longer],” said Gotham FC midfielder Yazmeen Ryan. “She’s such an amazing person and player to learn from. She sets the tone and the standard for our team every single day. Being underneath her leadership has been one of the highlights of my career. She’s a huge part of why we as a club are where we are.”
Her team-first mentality extends off the pitch, with her LGBTQ+ activism impacting not only the community at large, but having a positive influence on her teammates. As Krieger told The Cut earlier this year, it was her own coming out that helped encourage her then Orlando Pride teammate Marta to also come out herself.
Krieger is no stranger to overcoming adversity. In 2012, ACL and MCL injuries kept her out of the 2012 London Olympics, but she battled through and came back to win the 2015 World Cup.
Earlier in her life, while playing at Penn State, she experienced life-threatening pulmonary embolisms following surgery and medication that caused blood clots to move up through her lungs and to her heart. In 2019, she wrote in the Players’ Tribune how the experience instilled within her a new level of focus.
One of her defining moments came when she was called back into the U.S. Women’s National Team for the 2019 World Cup after over a year. In 2017, without explanation, she stopped receiving call ups to the national team. In the months between, she continued to push, work, and improve so that one day, she would once again get that call.
When the time came, she answered the call and became a pivotal part of the squad that made it to the World Cup final that year. With the ball at her feet when the final whistle blew, the USWNT - and Krieger - had won their second consecutive World Cup.
The defender has spoken extensively about this experience, how having the ball at her feet at the match felt like a poetic, full circle moment. The 2019 call ups also allowed her to celebrate another momentous occasion: 100 appearances with the national team.
“You know, I get kind of uncomfortable celebrating myself,” Krieger told The Athletic in 2019. “It’s never been just about me, so that’s always hard to do. I love being a part of the team, and so I know we’re going to all celebrate together.”
Whenever Krieger speaks to the media, one thing is always clear. As she told CBS Mornings in March, although she has given so much to the game, she has gotten a lot in return. For the 39-year-old, it was important to announce her retirement at the beginning of the season to give herself the chance to say goodbye to her teammates and fans that have made it all worthwhile.
“I want to leave the game better than where I found it,” said she earlier this year. “I believe we have accomplished a lot since we’ve started. I want to be remembered as being a good person and a good teammate who worked tirelessly to create a space for everyone to feel safe and seen, for speaking up for things that should be better for the younger generation. That’s the legacy I want to leave.”
Although she has certainly left behind a legacy that will not soon be forgotten, her eyes are still focused on one final task: winning an NWSL championship with Gotham FC.
“In a career filled with blessings, the NWSL title is one of the only trophies I still have yet to win,” Krieger said. “I’ve worked really hard to get to this point. I’ve always been inspired by winning, competing, and a desire to be the best, and this will be my last chance to win a championship. I’m determined to work with my teammates to make this final goal a reality.”
As she looks back on all the sport has given her, what stands out the most is the friendships she has made which will forever extend off the pitch.
“Most importantly to me are the lifelong friendships I’ve made over the years,” she said. “It’s one thing to call them your teammate and it’s another thing to call them your best friends. Ultimately, that’s what you carry through into the next phase. That’s what I value most about being part of Gotham and the national team is that you carry friendships for years and years. Football doesn’t last forever.”
Through the ups and downs both on and off the pitch, the teammates that became friends are what got her through it all.
“It’s really important to build these bonds and relationships with your teammates,” she said. “That’s something that is really special to me because these are the people I lean on for everything.”
On Sunday, when Krieger players her final regular season NWSL game with Gotham FC, we can all express our gratitude for all that she’s taught us, all that she’s given us, and wish her well on everything that’s yet to come. #ThankYouKriegs