Ali Krieger has played in over 85 matches in eight years with the U.S. national team. She has appeared in two World Cups, starting and playing in every minute of each tournament. Last summer at the 2015 World Cup, she was a major part of the stalwart U.S. defense that allowed three goals in seven matches as the team won the World Cup.
Krieger’s success has not come without obstacles though. Her career is reminiscent of a roller coaster, with peaks and valleys that Krieger has had to endure.
In late 2005, Krieger, a junior on the Penn State women’s soccer team, was playing a scrimmage against the men’s club team two days before the NCAA tournament. “I kind of just got taken out by one of the players and went down immediately and felt my leg just snap,” she recalled. “It ended up being a spiral fracture and I was out the rest of the season.”
Weeks later, Penn State made it to the Final Four and Krieger flew with the team. Afterwards she took a few more flights visiting her parents during winter break.
As a result of those successive flights following her surgery, Krieger developed blood clots in her leg and lungs. “It was the perfect storm,” she explained. “There was certain medication that I was on and the flights and obviously the surgery that gave me this pulmonary embolism.”
“I wasn’t sure if I would be able to play ever again,” Krieger said. “ I was only 21 years old so it was a pretty big deal because I could have died. It’s a life-changing moment.”
Krieger fully recovered from her blood clots and leg injury to play her senior year at Penn State. Two years later, she made her debut with the U.S. national team and was named an alternate for the 2008 Olympics.
“It was amazing, I mean that was incredible, even just being an alternate because it was a dream come true to even play with the national team,” Krieger said.
While Krieger accomplished one of her goals by making the national team, she was disappointed to just miss out on the Olympics. “I think I had to go through that because I was right there, but I knew I was still a step behind. I needed to work on a few things.”
Krieger credits a lot of her success to her time in Germany, where she played professional soccer from 2008 to 2011. “I was playing day in and day out,” she said. “I was training with seven of the German national team players at the time. You had all these amazing national team players and I’m sitting there like, ‘This is unbelievable.’ I just used it to get better and to train every single day at a high level.”
Krieger did not make an appearance for the U.S. in 2009, but in 2010 she played in eight matches, including two matches at the CONCACAF Women’s World Cup qualifying tournament.
2011 proved to be her breakout year as she started in 16 matches for the U.S. Krieger played in every minute of the World Cup, helping the U.S. to a second-place finish.
Off the momentum of 2011, Krieger was established in the national team going into 2012 Olympic qualifying. However, her quest for her first Olympic appearance came to an abrupt stop when she tore her ACL in the first match of qualifying.
Krieger tried to make it back for the Olympics that summer, but did not have enough time to get healthy. “I kind of realized I wasn’t going to make the Olympics maybe a month before,” she said. “I was devastated, but I understood my new position and what I needed to do, just worry about getting back and getting healthy.”
Krieger watched the Olympics from Germany, where she was doing her rehab. “I was watching the Olympics and a lot of the girls gave me shout outs,” she explained. “On my birthday ‘Pinoe [Megan Rapinoe] scored the goal against Colombia and held up a little sign that she made even though she spelled my name wrong, but I ended up crying when I saw it."
“That support from the team throughout my entire process, my rehab, was really incredible because it just gave me that extra to work that much harder each and every day,” she said. Krieger even made the trip to London for the Gold Medal Match and watched the U.S. win gold.
After narrowly missing out on the 2008 Olympics and having her chance at the 2012 Olympics taken away from her by injury, Krieger remained driven. “I mean I had my doubts, but I wasn’t going to let anything stop me,” she responded when asked if she thought she may never play in the Olympics.
“I came back 10 times stronger than I was during the 2011 World Cup,” Krieger explained. “I felt like such a better player because of that rehab and that focus that I had. I think everything happens for a reason and I think I came out so much better than when I first thought I was at the top of my game.”
Krieger made a full recovery from her injury in 2012 and again became a major contributor for the national team. From 2013 to 2015 she played in more than 45 matches for the U.S., including seven in the 2015 World Cup.
In 2016, Krieger has continued to be a part of the U.S. roster. She appeared in three matches during Olympic qualifying and is set to make her Olympic debut this summer in Rio.
“I have always dreamt of going to an Olympics and watching these incredible athletes and being motivated and inspired to want to be successful in my own sport,” Krieger said. “As an athlete in my sport you always want to go to an Olympics.”
Eight years after first joining the U.S. national team, Krieger is ready to play in the Olympics, having been named to the 18-player U.S. roster. “It means for me that I have worked my entire life to be the best player that I can be in my sport,” she said. “I get to play on the highest stage and fight against other countries and hopefully bring a gold home, my first Olympic gold.”
In a career full of ups and downs, this summer could prove to be the apex for Krieger as she makes her long-awaited Olympic debut.
“I can check it off my list,” she said. “It’s something that I have had at the back of my mind since I got injured and I have dreamt of going to this tournament my whole life.”