Ali Krieger had a chip on her shoulder.
The former Penn State women's soccer standout knew deep down that her National Women’s Soccer League team, the Orlando Pride, was among the best in the league.
But the team was never put to the test when the NWSL resumed play with the Challenge Cup in June.
The Pride had a coronavirus outbreak where 10 people associated with the team tested positive, dashing their hopes of suiting up and proving Krieger's point, forcing the team to withdraw.
Krieger later revealed on social media that she herself yielded a positive result that turned negative just days later, potentially indicating a faulty test.
“It was wild. I think all of us have a little PTSD from it,” Krieger told The Daily Collegian of the experience.
While Krieger acknowledged that it cannot be proven how the virus infiltrated the team, reports alleged that a group of Pride players had violated team social distancing guidelines by going out to bars.
“You can’t really pin it on a group of individuals, but I can say that not everyone followed the protocol as well as we should have, which caused the group to have to pull out of the tournament,” she said.
Krieger spoke of the hardship her team endured, evoking the frustration she felt as her opportunity to play again was further postponed.
“It was sad at that moment because we had such a great team to take to Utah, and then watching the tournament, I knew we would have done really well,” she said. “I don’t care if I say this, we were more prepared than a lot of those teams, and we were very fit and we had worked our asses off to get there.”
Krieger candidly expressed her disappointment in the actions of those players and the consequences the team faced as a result.
“It was just unfortunate, but all in all, people have to be trusted in that environment, take it very [seriously], and people have to do the right thing by following the protocols,” she said. “And when you don’t follow the protocols, that’s what happens.
“I’m upset that people couldn’t see how well we were playing together in that short amount of time. So, it is what it is, you got to move on.”
All of the hardship Krieger has endured is especially disheartening for the former Nittany Lion, given the milestones she attained the year before in 2019.
The Penn State alumna appeared in her third FIFA Women’s World Cup and lifted the trophy for the second time in her career.
She then ended the year by marrying her now-wife and teammate Ashlyn Harris.
But 2020 has been a different story, as the world continues to reel from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which brought the sports world to a standstill in mid-March.
Krieger, like everyone else, was forced to adapt to circumstances she hadn’t experienced in her 14-year professional career.
“It was really difficult to sit still, because our lifestyle and our livelihood is constantly on the go,” Krieger said.
As elite athletes, Krieger and Harris had to navigate the challenge of keeping themselves fit and prepared to retake the field when the time came.
“It was hard as athletes because with our job, you can’t necessarily just work from home,” Krieger said. “Obviously working means just training and finding a place in the park, riding bikes, or going outside for runs. But it’s really difficult to not get injured during those times because the grass is uneven, the roads aren’t necessarily good for your joints to be running on properly.”
Krieger and Harris took matters into their own hands by putting together a gym in their home using weights and other equipment.
Overall, spending an unprecedented amount of time at home had its challenges, but Krieger managed to find positives amid the struggle.
“It was nice to be home for that time because normally we’re always on planes, we’re traveling, we’re living out of hotels,” she said. “I don’t think I sat still at home for over 10 years, so it was enjoyable at times just to kind of take a deep breath and refocus.”
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Krieger said she enjoyed spending quality time with Harris since their hectic schedules usually keep them occupied.
“Obviously, being stuck with anyone for 24/7 is really difficult and I’m sure people struggle through that, but with our communication, we’ve done really well through this process.”
The pair has motivated each other to not only stay in shape as athletes, but also to focus on self-care through breathing exercises and meditation.
“She’s encouraged me more to do that, which has been really healthy for our relationship and also just our mental health,” Krieger said.
Krieger had another 2020 ambition denied when the Olympic Games in Tokyo were postponed to 2021.
Nonetheless, Krieger intends to prepare for what would be her second Olympic appearance after participating in the 2016 Summer Games.
“I’m gonna work my butt off, of course. I really want to go,” she said. “This is something I would love to be a part of, especially in Japan, it’s going to be such a beautiful [Olympic] Games.”
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At the age of 36, Krieger continues to play at a high level as a right back or center back, and her endurance and defensive expertise still stand out among the game’s best.
“No matter what age you are, as long as you’re fit, you’re healthy and you’re playing well, you have a chance, you have an opportunity.”
She recognizes that despite her 107 appearances over 12 years on the USWNT, she still must fight for a place on the 18-player Olympic roster.
“You can’t always assume just because you’ve been on the national team for a certain amount of years that you're gonna make the team,” Krieger said.
Penn State coach and USWNT assistant coach Erica Dambach fully expects Krieger to make a convincing case for an Olympic roster spot.
“The thing that’s always stood out about Krieger for me is this idea of if you stay fit and ready, then you don’t have to get fit and ready,” Dambach said. “I have zero concerns about where Krieger is mentally and physically.”
Beyond her 2021 Olympic aspirations, Krieger looks toward the future with one eye on retirement and the other on the few accomplishments she has yet to fulfill, such as an NWSL championship.
Krieger has established a reputation as not only a hard worker, but also a distinguished leader.
“[Krieger] holds everyone to a high standard, but she also holds herself to that same standard. She wouldn’t really ask anybody to do anything that she’s not willing to do herself,” Orlando Pride teammate Kristen Edmonds told the Collegian.
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In spite of Krieger's many achievements on the soccer field, she wants to be remembered as more than an athlete.
“I don’t want to be known as just a footballer. I want to obviously leave a legacy and leave the game better than where I found it before I can say goodbye, which I think I’ve done a decent job at already,” she said.
“I still have a feeling of wanting more and wanting to compete and play. I think until that feeling is gone, and I can then say ‘alright I’m turning to the next chapter,’ I think I’ll continue to work hard and have fun.”
Stepping away from soccer won’t come easily to Krieger, whose livelihood has revolved around the sport since her early days.
“I love the game so much, so it’s really difficult to leave,” she said. “You see that in a lot of us older players. You have fun when you’re winning, you have fun when you’re successful, you have fun when you’re winning these championships, so it’s difficult to just let go of and move on to the next thing because we’ve been doing it for our entire lives.”
She already has ideas of what she wants to do when that time comes, and they range from becoming a sports commentator or sideline reporter, to potentially trying her hand at coaching — anything to allow her to give back to the sport.
“I’ve tried to perfect this passion for so long that I think I need to give back in a way that still is dealing with the game in some way, shape, or form,” she said. “I think I could really be a value in that way because I’ve been on all sides of the game. I think it would be really fun to create a safe environment with some of the same mentality that I grew up playing and apply that to some of these younger players.”